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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.38 Franz Goedecker, caricature

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In a caricature by the German artist Franz Goedecker, Darwin stands in front of a desk, confronting a monkey with a face resembling his own. It holds his book on earthworms, and is squatting on a copy of a German translation, Erden Wuermer, together with one of Origin of Species; an outsize copy of The Descent of Man is prominently placed at the side of the desk. The print is titled Die Abstammung des Menschen (The Descent of Man), and was published by Carl Simon of Berlin. The reference to The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms fixes its date as late in 1881 or early 1882. Despite Darwin’s appearance of pleasant affability, the monkey holds a certain menace. It is in fact a direct echo of the animal-like incubus in Henry Fuseli’s famous painting The Nightmare, painted exactly a century earlier in 1781.   

Goedecker was born in Bingen am Rhein, but apparently came to Britain by about 1883, when he wrote to Ruskin, presumably in the hope of patronage or a public endorsement. Ruskin replied on 28 March 1883: ‘I am greatly interested by the photographs you have sent me from your very clever drawings, but they are to me anything but “jokes.” I see no matter of merriment either in the weakness of age or the abortions of vulgar form; and I sincerely hope that you will not waste your real powers in pandering to the malice or the stupidity of those people who do.’ Goedecker was probably in no position to follow Ruskin’s advice or to aspire to a high-minded artistic path. Whether by inclination, or faute de mieux, he was among the artists who contributed to Vanity Fair’s series of portrait caricatures in 1884, using the name ‘Goe’. He also apparently took part in satirical performances at the German Athenaeum Club in London, and is mentioned in a book that related to them, O’Clarus Hiebslac’s Englische Sprach-Schnitzer (1885). Hiebslac mentioned that Goedecker had died on 15 December 1884, bringing his artistic career to a premature end. 

  • physical location Wellcome Library. Another impression, in a private collection, is accessible via Bridgeman Images, image no. XJF294052 

  • accession or collection number Wellcome Library record no. 2376i; photo L 15374 

  • copyright holder Wellcome Library 

  • originator of image Franz Goedecker (signed ‘FZ [in monogram] Goedecker’ at bottom right) 

  • date of creation 1881-2 

  • computer-readable date c.1881-11-01 to 1882-03-31 

  • medium and material lithograph 

  • references and bibliography O’Clarus Hiebslac, Englische Sprach-Schnitzer (J. Trübner, 1885), p. 70 (modern editions exist). Edward Tyas Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (eds), The Works of John Ruskin, 39 vols (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), vol. 14, pp. 490-1. Ruskin’s letter was published in the Pall Mall Gazette of 18 Jan., 1888, and reprinted several times subsequently. Renate Burgess, Portraits of Doctors and Scientists in the Wellcome Institute (London: 1973), p. 92, no. 764 (14). National Portrait Gallery, London, online extended catalogue entry for Goedecker’s caricature of Hubert von Herkomer, NPG 2720. J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 188, indicates that the print was also published in Britain and redrawn in Morgen-Post in 1885.  


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