The importance of having the right Beard

William Beard: The Youthful Darwin Discussing his Theories (Image 3021 AMNH Library)

William Beard: The Youthful Darwin Discussing his Theories (Image 3021 AMNH Library)

No, not the famous beard belonging to Charles himself, but the right member of the Beard family, two generations of whom were artists in or around New York in the nineteenth century.


A short while ago we asked for help in finding an image mentioned in a letter Darwin received in 1872.  We knew that the artist was a Mr Beard and the title was given in the letter as “The Young Darwinian”.    You can read the original post here.   Thanks to readers of this blog we found the right image  just in time to include it in the next volume of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin (vol. 20) which is about to go to press.


From the context, we thought we were looking for a caricature drawn by the comic illustrator, Thomas Francis (Frank) Beard , but it turns out that what Darwin was sent was a copy of an engraving made from an oil painting by Frank Beard’s  uncle, William.


The original painting “The Youthful Darwin Discussing his Theories”, is now in the  Division of Vertebrate Paleontology archives at the American Museum of Natural History.  It depicts a young humanoid with a nicely vestigial tail, showing a pair of sceptical (and slightly amused) older apes a series of organisms from a fish to an amphibian.  It is painted almost entirely in black, white, and shades of grey, with just a little sepia in the foreground, presumably to mimic a photograph.  The image was popularised in June 1871, shortly after the publication of Darwin’s Descent of Man, when a copy of the engraving was exhibited at the Century Club in New York.


William Holbrook Beard (1825-1900) specialised in satirical paintings substituting animals for humans. He was born in the US, then studied in Italy and Germany before settling in NYC in 1861.   His older brother, James Henry Beard, was also a commercial artist, as were James’s three sons, James Carter Beard, Daniel Carter Beard, and Thomas Francis.


We are delighted to have been put right in time, and are grateful to Michael Barton and Glenn Branch for their sleuthing, and to Mai Qaraman of AMNH for help with a copy of the image.  This is the first time we have used the blog to crowd source an editing problem, but we’ll certainly do it again.

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