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Darwin Correspondence Project

3.19 Elliott and Fry photos c.1880-1

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In addition to Elliott and Fry’s photographs showing an old and enfeebled Darwin on the verandah of Down House, there are at least two other images of him created by the same firm at this period of his life - perhaps even on the same day. These are indoor photographs, bust-length, in which Darwin wears his accustomed loose, heavy jacket and waistcoat. One shows him nearly full-face, the other is a three-quarter view: even in the former, there is little sense of willing communication with the photographer or viewer. As ‘cartes’ or ‘cabinet’ cards, where the photograph is sometimes rendered as a vignette, they quickly became posthumous memorials of Darwin. They accorded well with the growing adulation of him as an unworldly individual who had persisted in scientific enquiry despite physical weakness and the detraction of his critics, becoming at last a venerated and unchallengeable icon of science. Indeed, it seems to be one of these photographs (the three-quarter view) that can be glimpsed hanging on the wall of Joseph Hooker’s study, literally at his right hand, in a drawing by Theodore Blake Wirgman published in the Graphic in 1886. 

Like the photographs taken by Elliott and Fry in the verandah, these lack a precise date. The National Portrait Gallery dates the whole group ’29 November, 1881’, but without explanation; John van Wyhe prefers a date of c.1880. The frontal photograph was used when Darwin was included in an assemblage of nine ‘famous men’ of all nations, published by The Graphic in January 1909. The portraits were arranged decoratively, like a page from a Victorian photograph album, and titled ‘Annus mirabilis: a year of centenaries: celebrities born in 1809’. In the top tier, Darwin (‘the greatest scientist of our times’) and Gladstone flank the central portrait of Tennyson. A collection of essays about aspects of Darwin’s work, published to coincide with the centenary celebration at Cambridge in that same year, also included this photograph to epitomise the last stage of his life, and tentatively dated it ‘(?1880)’, probably on the advice of Francis Darwin. These Elliott and Fry photographs were also widely engraved and reproduced. A wood engraving in an oval from the three-quarter-view photograph appeared in Robert Wilson’s lavishly illustrated Life and Times of Queen Victoria of 1897. This same photograph was copied as a wash drawing and reproduced in half tone in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, also in 1897, and it appeared again as a lithographic vignette, used as a frontispiece to a cheap edition of Origin of Species, published by H.M. Caldwell in New York and Boston, c.1898. Appleton’s Cyclopædia of American Biography edited by James Grant Wilson (New York, 1900), used a wood-engraved vignette from the same photograph, with a facsimile of Darwin’s signature. The frontal photograph was rendered as a steel engraving by C. Cook, published by William Mackenzie; Cook expanded the image into a pictorial composition, with Darwin shown sitting on a high-backed chair in a dark interior, his hand resting on his walking stick (Wellcome Library, ICV No. 1657). Elliott and Fry’s image even reappeared on a cigarette card issued by the firm of Cousis c.1905.   

  • physical location Darwin archive, Cambridge University Library     

  • accession or collection number DAR 140.1.31 and DAR 257.13  

  • copyright holders Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originators of image photographic firm of Elliott and Fry 

  • date of creation c.1880-1881 

  • computer-readable date c. 1880-01-01 to 1881-12-31 

  • medium and material albumen photographic prints in ‘carte’ and ‘cabinet’ formats 

  • references and bibliography ‘No. XX, Celebrities of the Day: Sir J.D. Hooker’, Graphic 34:868 (17 July 1886), p. 54 and plate signed ‘Blake Wirgman 1886 Kew’.  Henry Smith Williams, ‘The century’s progress in biology’, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 95 (June-Nov. 1897), pp. 930-942, with reproduction of the photograph on p. 936. Robert Wilson, The Life and Times of Queen Victoria, 4 vols (London, Paris, Melbourne: Cassell, 1897), vol. 4, p. 653, with wood-engraved portrait. This appears as a clipping in the Mohr collection of Darwiniana in the Huntington Library (box 1, folder 7). James Grant Wilson (ed.), Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: D. Appleton, 1900), vol. 7, p. 82. ‘Annus mirabilis’, The Graphic (23 Jan. 1909), p. 101. A.C. Seward (ed.), Darwin and Modern Science: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of the Origin of Species (Cambridge: University Press, 1909), p. 493. J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, pp. 178-9. See also the catalogue entry for Elliott and Fry’s photographs of Darwin on the verandah at Down House. 


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