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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.28 'English celebrities' montage

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One of the stranger appropriations of Elliott and Fry’s portrayal of Darwin was to make him one of a group of ‘Authors’, in an album titled English Celebrities, 19th Century (1876). Fiction writers and scientists were grouped on other pages of this work, while Darwin was placed here among the social philosophers, imagined as discussing intellectual matters at a library table in a richly furnished interior. In real life Darwin avoided any such collegiality, and was invariably photographed alone. Yet now he found himself involuntarily in company with writers as diverse as John Stuart Mill, Charles Lamb, Charles Kingsley, Herbert Spencer and John Ruskin. The first three of these men were already deceased when the image was published – Lamb died in 1834, before the dawn of photography – and the whole ensemble is a compound of graphic art and likenesses derived from photographs, forming a montage. As though in recognition of Darwin’s singularity, he stands aloof, lost in thought, and on top of the column behind him there is a sculpture of a proto-human ape. He is again given priority among the ‘Authors’ in the accompanying biographical texts. 

John van Wyhe records that the composite image was also issued by the publisher as a carte de visite, sometimes sold in a mount as a Christmas card. 

  • physical location National Portrait Gallery, London 

  • accession or collection number NPG Ax132900 (album 216) 

  • copyright holder National Portrait Gallery 

  • originator of image unknown 

  • date of creation 1876 

  • computer-readable date 1876-01-01 to 1876-12-31 

  • medium and material albumen photographic print, mounted on card, in a leather-bound and gold-embossed album. The image was derived from a montage of retouched photographs and painted imagery. 

  • references and bibliography English Celebrities 19th Century, Part 1 (London: Hughes and Edmonds, 1876), given to the NPG by Mrs Granville Proby. Peter Hamilton and Roger Hargreaves, The Beautiful and the Damned: The Creation of Identity in Nineteenth-century Photography (London: Lund Humphries, 2001), p. 37. J. Van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 142. 


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