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Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Physician and poet

Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, see NPG 88.

Wedgwood medallion attributed to William Hackwood, after the Wright portrait of 1770 (illus. R. Reilly and G. Savage, Wedgwood the Portrait Medallions, 1973, p 118).

Enamel on Wedgwood earthenware by George Stubbs, half length oval. Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston. Exhibited Stubbs and Wedgwood, Tate Gallery, 1974 (12). The circumstancial evidence outweighs the visual in favour of this identification (see B. Tattersall, Apollo, CI, 1975, pp 34-35).

Silhouette attributed to Francis Torond, playing chess with his son Erasmus. Private collection (illus. Country Life, CLI, 1972, p.360).

Painting by Joseph Wright, half length, a quill in his raised right hand, ‘a straight but severe likeness’. Private collection, commissioned by Sacheverell Pole, the sitter’s stepson (B. Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1968, no.52; J. Egerton et al., Wright of Derby, exhibition catalogue, London, Paris, New York, 1990, no.145). Engraved J. R. Smith 1797; reduced oval plate by Holl 1800.
Wright painted copies (see B. Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1968, I, pp.192-93) for Sir Brooke Boothby (unidentified) and Jedediah Strutt (private collection), the latter showing the right hand turned more toward the spectator, as do all the other known versions; other replicas are at Down House and in Derby Museum and Art Gallery, the latter showing the yellow waistcoat unstriped.
A copy attributed to James Rawlinson in Wolverhampton Art Gallery (unstriped waistcoat); an early copy at St John’s College, Cambridge (Christie’s, 18 April 1986, lot 115), omitting the right hand; later copies with the Royal Society of Medicine, London, and the Royal Masonic School for Boys, Bushey.
A miniature formerly at Down House resembles Holl’s oval engraving of 1800; Darwin had presented a miniature of himself to the Rev Robert Clive (d. 1792), see S. Felton, Portraits of English Authors on Gardening, 1830, p 164.

Pastel by James Sharples, small half length. Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery (Cat. of the Sharples Coll., Bristol, 1910, no.23). A related pastel by Ellen Sharples dated 1816 is on loan to Down House (English Heritage Review, 1999, II, p 37); she had recorded copying her husband’s small portrait in June-July 1803 (K. McC.Knox, The Sharples, 1930, p 117).

Silhouette in the manner of Richard Jordan, profile bust. Private collection (illus. Country Life, CLI, 1972, p 359).

Painting by James Rawlinson, half length. On loan to Darwin College, Cambridge (illus. M. Keynes, 'Portraits of Erasmus Darwin, FRS, by Joseph Wright, James Rawlinson and William Coffee', Notes and Records, Royal Society, London, 1994, p 78). Engraved J. Heath 1804; F. Holl 1807 (‘from the original in the possession of Dr Thornton’, i.e. Dr R. J. Thornton’s Linnean Gallery, see Milne NPG 5180); M. Haughton 1807; R. Cooper 1823. Versions at Down House and sold Sotheby’s, 17 April 1957, lot 151.

Painting by S. J. Arnold, seated reading a letter, engraved B. Pym 1801 (illus. A. Desmond & J. Moore, Darwin, 1991, f.p.44). An unsatisfactory likeness.

Painting attributed to James Rawlinson, half-length oval, writing at his desk. High View Community School, Breadsall, Derby. Taken from an ink drawing by Rawlinson, signed and dated 1802, sold Sotheby’s, 11 December 1992, lot 68.

Coadestone bust by W. J. Coffee, lifesize. Derby Museum and Art Gallery (described in the Monthly Mag., 1804, p 557). A bronze cast was engraved H. Meyer 1820 when in the possession of Dr Sacheverell Darwin; another made in 1967 is at Down House (illus. D. King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin, 1999, f.p.86, pl.1).

Alabaster bust attributed to George Moneypenny. Darwin College, Cambridge, from the Mechanics Institute, Derby; Christie’s, 7 December 1993, lot 92 as attributed to W. J. Coffee (illus. M. Keynes, 'Portraits of Erasmus Darwin, FRS, by Joseph Wright, James Rawlinson and William Coffee', Notes and Records, Royal Society, London, 1994, p 80). An unprepossessing likeness.

Relief medallion by E. Onslow Ford, derived from the Wright portrait of 1770. Lichfield Cathedral.

Doubtful Portraits
Darwin has been unconvincingly identified in Joseph Wright’s Experiment with the Air Pump (National Gallery London); see D. King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin, 1998, pp 83, 184.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.