Thomas Henry Huxley
Thomas Henry Huxley
by John Collier
oil on canvas, 1883
50 in. x 40 in. (1270 mm x 1016 mm)
Given by the sitter's son, Henry Huxley, 1943
On display in Room 27 at the National Portrait Gallery
Sitterback to top
- Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), Biologist and science educationist. Sitter in 48 portraits.
Artistback to top
- John Collier (1850-1934), Portrait painter and writer on art. Artist associated with 21 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.
This portraitback to top
Thomas Huxley was a key figure in Victorian scientific life. He worked tirelessly to improve scientific education and served on many Royal Commissions on education and public health. Huxley made important discoveries in several branches of biology and was a vigorous champion of the evolutionary theories of Darwin but tended to antagonise moderate opinion with his aggressive style of argument. He is seen in this portrait holding a skull and resting his arm on a pile of books. Close examination of the painting reveals that Collier had originally chosen to depict two skulls, presumably of apes, resting on the table.
Linked publicationsback to top
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- Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 117 Read entry
Darwin was inhibited about promoting his ideas: he feared controversy would damage his social status, and he was a poor debater. He provided the intellectual ammunition and background support to expert scientific polemicists such as Joseph Hooker and, above all, Thomas Huxley who took the fight for natural selection into the lecture halls and learned societies, and into print. Huxley's ire was often directed at the powerful anti-Darwinian Richard Owen, hating his 'metaphorical mystifications' masquerading as science. Whenever possible Owen pulled rank over the younger Huxley, once assuming the title 'Professor' to give a series of lextures in Huxley's own School of Mines, thereby undermining his authority.
- Hart-Davis, Adam, Chain Reactions, 2000, p. 131
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 324
Events of 1883back to top
Current affairsFollowing the Secret Ballot Act (1872), the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act was a further measure introduced by Gladstone's government with the intention of limiting bribery and intimidation in elections. Candidates' expenses were published, and a strict limit set on expenses, and it also enabled poorer candidates to stand for parliament.
Art and scienceThe Royal College of Music founded in London, with the British musicologist George Grove as its first director.
Monet moves to Giverny, a village along the Seine, where he lives until his death in 1926. Renting a farmhouse he later buys, Monet designs a pond, redesigns the garden, and begins to paint some of his most recognisable images of water lilies, flower beds and the Japanese footbridge.