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Darwin Correspondence Project

3.8 Leonard Darwin, interior photo

Leonard Darwin, who created the distinctive image of his father sitting on the verandah at Down House, also portrayed him as a melancholy philosopher. His head, brightly lit from above, emerges from the enveloping darkness; he looks down, as though solitary and lost in thought. There is here an obvious relationship to Ouless’s painting of Darwin, and to the photographs taken by Julia Margaret Cameron. However, the photograph can also be associated with Leonard’s own personal recollections of his father. Darwin’s life, Leonard wrote, could not ‘be understood without reference to what he suffered’.  Once, ‘As a young lad I went up to my father when strolling about the lawn, and he, after, as I believe, a kindly word or two, turned away’, as though incapable of talking further. ‘Then there suddenly shot through my mind the conviction that he wished he was no longer alive. Must there not have been a strained and weary expression in his face to have produced . . . such an effect on a boy’s mind?’ This was written as late as 1929, when Leonard was himself nearly eighty, but it reads like a commentary on his own photograph of Darwin. There seems to have been a two-way process of transference or influence between Darwin’s iconography and impressions of the man himself: a phenomenon which is evident also in Haeckel’s descriptions of him. At the same time, photographs of Darwin taken by his family and friends have an intimacy that allows spectators to imagine themselves in his presence. 

Leonard Darwin did not generally record the dates when he took his photographs. This one must be before August 1878, when it was reproduced as a woodburytype in the University Magazine. Desmond and Moore, in their biography of Darwin, captioned it ‘about 1874’, while handwritten inscriptions on two copies in the Darwin archive say the photograph was taken in 1878. The latter date is accepted by Geoffrey Belknap and John van Wyhe, but, as explained above, it would need to have been early in that year. A letter which Leonard wrote to his father from Brompton Barracks in April 1878 enclosing two photographs (unspecified, and now absent) might refer to the portrait of Darwin, although a pencilled note on the letter could suggest that Leonard was actually sending photographs of plant specimens  at this point. Nevertheless, many years later, in 1933, Leonard himself noted on a copy of the woodburytype of the photograph at Down House that he took it in 1878.  

It was this photograph which Leonard himself sent to Anthony Rich, a great admirer of Darwin who insisted on bequeathing property to Darwin. Rich framed and hung it in his room, ‘where it reminds me daily of the actual presence of one for whom I seemed to feel a positive affection, as well as veneration and respect’. Worthington George Smith, a naturalist and illustrator, created a bold wood-engraved image of Darwin’s head and shoulders from Leonard’s photograph. It was used to illustrate an article on Darwin in the Gardeners’ Magazine, written by its editor Shirley Hibberd in 1881, and well expresses Hibberd’s conviction that Darwin was ‘our great observing philosopher, our one great prophet in the region of facts’. Leonard’s image was also copied in a drawing which reduced it to a head-and-shoulders vignette in an oval, signed by ‘M. Weber XA [Xylographisches Atelier]’; this was for a wood engraving to illustrate an obituary of Darwin by Dr Otto Zacharias in the Illustrirte Zeitung of Leipzig in 1882. Francis Darwin lent the woodburytype of Leonard’s photograph to Edward Woodall, to serve as frontispiece for his paper on Darwin in the Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society 8 (1884). A portrait photograph ‘on china from the negative by Leonard Darwin’, lent to the 1909 exhibition by Horace Darwin, may or may not relate to the image under discussion.  

  • physical location Darwin archive, Cambridge University Library 

  • accession or collection number DAR 225.120-122 (several copies) 

  • copyright holder Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originator of image Leonard Darwin 

  • date of creation undated; probably early 1878 

  • computer-readable date c.1878-01-01 to c.1878-04-30 

  • medium and material albumen photographic print 

  • references and bibliography DAR 186.34 (DCP-LETT-11484), Leonard Darwin’s letter to his father, enclosing unidentified photographs, 25 April 1878. Woodburytype reproduction of Leonard’s photograph of Darwin in The University Magazine 2 (August 1878), with a facsimile of his signature, illustrating ‘Charles Darwin F.R.S.’, pp. 154-163. Worthington Smith’s wood engraving is in DAR 140.1 (unlisted, between nos. 22 and 23); a handwritten note on this copy of the engraving, indicating that it was used to illustrate an article in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, is inaccurate - it actually appeared in the Gardeners’ Magazine (20 Aug. 1881), illustrating Hibberd’s article, ‘Mr. Charles Darwin’, on pp. 477-8 (Lindley Library, Royal Horticultural Society). Cf. Brent Elliott, ‘The reception of Charles Darwin in the British horticultural press’, Occasional Papers from the RHS Lindley Library 3 (July 2010), pp. 6-83, fig. 22. A copy of the photograph in the Galton archive, University College London, GALTON/1/1/3/7, ‘Photographs and drawing of Charles Darwin’, is signed by Darwin with the date ‘Feb. 22d 1880’, but this was when the photograph was presented to Galton, not when it was taken. Weber’s engraved version in Illustrirte Zeitung no. 2026 (29 April 1882), DAR 216.82. Darwin Centenary: The Portraits, Prints and Writings of Charles Robert Darwin, exhibited at Christ’s College, Cambridge, 1909 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), p. 47, no. 252. Rich’s letter to the Darwin family mentioning Leonard’s photograph in Henrietta Litchfield (ed.), Emma Darwin: A Century of Family Letters, 1792-1896, 2 vols (London: John Murray, 1915), vol. 2, p. 259. Leonard Darwin, ‘Memories of Down House’, The Nineteenth Century, 106 (July 1929), pp. 118-123 (p. 120). Ludmilla Jordanova, Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraits 1660-2000 (London: Reaktion Books with the National Portrait Gallery, 2000), p. 69. Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: the Power of Place. Volume II of a Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), p. 363. [Geoffrey Belknap], ‘Darwin’s photographic portraits’, online at the Darwin Correspondence Project; accessed February 2020. J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, pp. 143, 176-7. 


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