Sir Humphry Davy, Bt(1778-1829), Natural philosopher
Sitter in 20 portraits
Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, 1802-13. Davy undertook groundbreaking work with gases and electrolysis and in 1807 he demonstrated the existence of potassium, sodium and chlorine with a galvanic battery. He also experimented with diamond combustion and invented the miner's safety lamp in 1815, becoming President of the Royal Society 1820-7. From his close friends Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey he absorbed the concept of 'Romantic genius', to which he aspired. With charm and entrepreneurial flair, he joined a new breed of celebrity scientists. His experiments at the Royal Institution were so charismatic that they became social events. Witnessing these, Mary Shelley took Davy as the model for Dr Frankenstein, the scientist who holds a terrifying secret of life-giving power.
More on Sir Humphry Davy: The Romantic Poets and their Circle book in our Shops
Watch a film clip on the sitter from the BBC Archive in the Media section below
by William Walker
by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey
hand-coloured etching, published 23 May 1802
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