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Darwin Correspondence Project

3.3 Maull and Polyblank photo 2

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Despite the difficulties that arose in relation to Maull and Polyblank’s first photograph of Darwin, another one was produced, this time showing him in three-quarter view. It was evidently not taken at the same session as the first, since he is differently dressed – in a rather startling array of checked fabrics - necktie, waistcoat and trousers. His hand is clenched, but he displays greater aplomb than in the first photograph, looking into the distance with a dignity more befitting the author of Origin of Species. However, this second photograph is not precisely dated. An entry in Darwin’s account book for February 1858 has led to the supposition that the photograph was taken in 1857, but there are counter-indications that it should be dated to a few years later. It may be the photograph that Darwin was promising to order and post to William Darwin Fox and to Hooker on 17 December 1860; he assured the latter that it was preferable to the first Maull and Polyblank photograph (of c.1855), which had given him such an ‘atrociously wicked’ expression. Darwin also wrote to Asa Gray in April 1861: ‘I am very glad to get your Photograph. I am expecting mine which I will send off as soon as it comes. It is an ugly affair, & I fear the fault does not lie with the Photographer.’ The fact that he was awaiting deliveries on these occasions strongly suggests that the photograph he found ‘ugly’ was commercially produced, not the one taken by his son William Darwin at that time, which he mentions fondly in a footnote. No professional photographers other than Maull and Polyblank are known to have been employed by Darwin before the second half of the 1860s, when Ernest Edwards entered the scene. Therefore the photograph referred to in 1860-1 is likely to be this second one by Maull and Polyblank, in three-quarter view. It must have been available before April or May 1862, when Darwin’s brother Erasmus solicited some copies, while in June 1862 the publisher Schweizerbart bought a copy to use as the frontispiece to the second German edition of Origin, published in 1863. 

Other early sources support an approximate dating of late 1859 or 1860. During the period when the firm was renamed Maull and Fox (c.1878-1885), the photograph was reissued in a retouched and softened version, and one copy of this reissue entered the collection at Down House. There are two handwritten notes on the trade label on the back of the frame, alluding to the first, unvarnished version of the image: one reads ‘original taken about 1859’, and the other (in a different hand, that of ‘J.D.’), ‘Photograph of Charles Darwin taken about the time of the publication of the Origin. Belonged to William & later to Horace Darwin’. Karl Pearson, who was well informed at least with respect to the dating of Darwin portraits, claimed in his Life of Francis Galton that the photograph was taken when Darwin was ‘aged 51’, i.e. in 1860, and Nora Barlow, in her 1958 edition of Darwin’s autobiography, followed this dating. It could certainly reflect the growing demand for portraits that followed the publication of Origin in late November 1859. In his letter of spring 1862, Darwin’s brother Erasmus sought Charles’s agreement to authorise open commercial sale of this photograph by Maull and Polyblank, rather than just a supply of prints to the Darwin family for presentation to selected friends.   

This image of Darwin was to be re-published over the years in several formats, including a vignette showing only his head and shoulders (on a card, with a printed credit to Maull and Polyblank, and therefore dateable before the partnership with Polyblank was dissolved c.1866). The full image was reproduced photographically by Büchner for the second German edition of Origin, and a bust-length version was subsequently wood-engraved by Gustav Kruell (signed bottom right) for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, where it was published in October 1884. Harper’s engraving was re-used as the frontispiece to volume 1 of The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), edited by Francis Darwin (with a caption querying the date, and suggesting ‘1854?’). It was reproduced photographically by Albert George Dew-Smith (apparently working from an old and faded print) in Annals of Botany in 1899, to illustrate an article on Darwin’s botanical work by Francis Darwin. It was adapted for a photogravure version by Walter & Cockerell, in More Letters of 1903. It was also, alas, one of the portrayals of Darwin ‘Exhibited by William E. and Leonard Darwin’ at the First International Eugenics Congress in 1912. Such reiteration reflects the fact that it was one of the very few images that showed Darwin as he looked at the time of the publication of Origin. However, the dissatisfaction that he expressed with it (if correctly identified) in his 1861 letter to Gray was shared by many readers and publishers. Ernst Haeckel, writing to Darwin in January 1866, thought it was ‘certainly very bad’ (‘gewiss schlecht’); he much preferred the little photograph taken by Darwin’s son William. Darwin in reply confirmed that the (second) Maull and Polyblank photograph and one taken by his son were all he had to offer. A year later the publisher Schweizerbart also demanded a better photograph of Darwin for the third German edition of Origin, and received that taken by William in 1864.  

The perceived shortcomings of Maull and Polyblank’s conventional studio photograph (perhaps its prosaic and circumstantial qualities – the jarring emphasis on dress) explain the retouching and blurring of the image, especially of the loud check trousers, in the later reissue. These shortcomings also explain why, as early as 1861-2, Darwin decided to go literally and metaphorically ‘in house’ for the fashioning of his image: the photographs taken by his own sons would prove to be of a much more sympathetic character than those of any commercial studio. 

  • physical location Darwin archive, Cambridge University Library 

  • accession or collection number DAR 225.175 and DAR 257.2 (cropped) 

  • copyright holder Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originator of image Henry Maull and George Henry Polyblank, photographers 

  • date of creation undocumented; probably c.1860 

  • computer-readable date c.1860-01-01 to 1860-12-31 

  • medium and material albumen photographic print 

  • references and bibliography Letter from Darwin to Hooker, 17 Dec. [1860], DCP-LETT-3024. Letter from Darwin to William Darwin Fox, 17 Dec. [1860], DCP-LETT-3025. Letter from Darwin to Asa Gray, 11 April [1861], DCP-LETT-3115. Letter from Erasmus Alvey Darwin to Darwin, [April-May? 1862], DCP-LETT-3745. Letter from Ernst Haeckel to Darwin, 11 Jan. 1866, DCP-LETT-4973, and Darwin’s reply, 20 Jan. [1866], DCP-LETT-4980. Letter from Christian Friedrich Schweizerbart to Darwin, 24 Jan. 1867, DCP-LETT-5377. Charles Darwin, über die Entstehung der Arten im Thier- und Pflanzen-Reich durch natürliche Züchtung, 2nd German ed. from 3rd English ed. of Origin, transl. H.G. Bronn (Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagshandlung, 1863), frontispiece. Kruell’s wood engraving of the photograph in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 69:413 (Oct. 1884), p. 762, illustrating  ‘A reminiscence of Mr. Darwin’ [by James Hague]. Francis Darwin, ‘The botanical work of Darwin’, in Annals of Botany, XIII (1899), frontispiece and note on p. xix. Francis Darwin and A.C. Seward (eds), More Letters of Charles Darwin, 2 vols (London: John Murray, 1903), vol. 2, illus. facing p. 204. Darwin Centenary: The Portraits, Prints and Writings of Charles Robert Darwin, exhibited at Christ’s College, Cambridge, 1909 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), p. 23, no. 117, the original photograph ‘enlarged from a negative’ lent by William Darwin. ‘List of Exhibits . . . Exhibited by William E. and Leonard Darwin’, First International Eugenics Congress, London, July 24th to July 30th, 1912: University of London, South Kensington, Catalogue of the Exhibition (London: Charles Knight, 1912), p. 1, B3. Karl Pearson, The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton, 3 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914-30), vol. 1, pl. xxxvii, between pp. 56-7. Janet Browne, ‘”I could have retched all night”: Charles Darwin and his body’, in Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin (eds), Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 240-287 (pp. 257, 259, 265). Jonathan Smith, Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 216. Browne, ‘Looking at Darwin: portraits and the making of an icon’, Isis, 100:3 (Sept. 2009), pp. 542-570 (pp. 566-9). Darwin archive, CUL-DAR 225.112-113 (the card with vignette version) and CUL-DAR 225.175 (the reissued and retouched version of the photograph). J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, pp. 144, 162 (with suggested date of 1857, and listing versions). 


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