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Stunning Darwin Family Photograph Album

DARWIN, CHARLES. Carte-de-visite Photograph Album

Down, Kent, 1871-1879

19 albumen prints (most CDVs measuring 2 1⁄4 x 3 1⁄2 in.) in a Victorian album with diecut windows. Some fading, two photographs on first leaf creased, tears to some mounts. Contemporary brown leather, beveled edges, clasp, gilt edges, restored.

“I am now rich in photographs, for I have found in London, Rejlander.” — Charles Darwin

An intimate photographic memento of Charles Darwin and his family. This extremely rare Darwin family photograph album contains photographs of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his wife Emma Darwin (1808-1896); their son George Howard Darwin (1845-1912), with another showing George holding his nephew Bernard Darwin; their daughter Elizabeth Darwin (1847-1926) and another of Elizabeth; their son Horace Darwin (1850-1953); their daughter Henrietta Emma ‘Etty’ Litchfield (1843-1927), with another two of Henrietta; Henrietta’s husband Richard Buckley Litchfield (1832-1903), with another of Richard; Charles and Emma’s first grandson Bernard Darwin (1876-1961) with two other photographs of the infant; and other photographs of as-yet unidentified sitters.

The portrait of Charles Darwin was made by Oscar Rejlander, “Darwin’s Photographer.” When Darwin decided to use photographs to illustrate his planned book on The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, he had found it difficult to obtain images with the desired facial expressions. After extensive searching, he eventually turned to the Swedish photographer Oscar Rejlander, whom he met in 1871. This seated portrait was one of several Rejlander made in 1871 or 1872. Darwin declared these “The best photographs of me” (Darwin Correspondence Project). Rejlander became “Darwin’s principal adviser on photographic issues … [and] presented Darwin with at least sixty-four pictures of expression, more than any other photographer” (Prodger, Darwin’s Camera). Three of the portraits in this album are by Rejlander.

Henrietta Darwin lived and worked with her father at Down House until her marriage at age twenty-eight to Richard Buckley Litchfield on 31 August 1871. This album contains portraits of Henrietta and Richard signed and dated on their wedding day, an indication of the sentimental importance of this album. “She was a valued editor to her father as well as companion and correspondent to both of her parents. Henrietta played a significant role in the continuing memorialization of both of her parents: she edited passages of The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (1887). Although Henrietta was not afforded the formal schooling provided to her brothers, her keen editorial eye was sought after by her father for his scientific writing, particularly his 1871 work, The Descent of Man. In this Henrietta provided far more than grammatical assistance; Darwin asked her to help clarify and enliven his work.”

“Though far less recognized by Victorian society for her intellectual worth than her father or brothers, Henrietta was an essential lynchpin in the Darwin circle, and helped anchor both the scientific and domestic activities of her family” (Darwin Correspondence Project). Charles Darwin thanked Henrietta for her role in preparing the second printing of The Descent of Man (1871), writing in part, “Several reviewers speak of the lucid vigorous style etc.— Now I know how much I owe to you in this respect, which includes arrangement, not to mention still more important aids in the reasoning” (20 March 1871). After her father’s death, she assisted with the editing of his Autobiography and Life of Erasmus Darwin, and she edited her mother Emma’s Letters.

Henrietta’s husband, R.B. Litchfield, took a junior position in the Ecclesiastical Commission to provide an income to support him in his work at the philanthropic Working Men’s College. There he taught mathematics and singing, eventually becoming its principal. Litchfield was a friend of James Clerk Maxwell and John Ruskin.

Two of the photographs are of Charles Darwin’s second son George Howard Darwin (1845-1912). A distinguished astronomer, George Darwin was Plumian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, Fellow of the Royal Society, and recipient of its Royal Medal and Copley Medal. George Howard Darwin has signed his portrait on the verso.

The collection also includes rare photographs of two other children of Charles Darwin. Horace Darwin, a scientist, was the youngest of the Darwin children to survive into adulthood. Elizabeth Darwin, known as “Bessy,” was the naturalist’s youngest child. Elizabeth, who never married, bought a home near the Litchfields in her later years. Finally, the collection includes three photographs of Charles and Emma’s first grandson, Bernard Darwin, as an infant and as a young boy. Bernard, who became a noted amateur golfer and golf writer, was born in 1876.

The album is offered with a fine portrait of Charles Darwin signed by Darwin on the mount beneath the image. London: Elliott & Fry, 1874. Albumen print (2 1⁄4 x 3 1⁄2 in.), carte-de-visite mount. Light wear. Fine. Elliott & Fry were leading portrait photographers in London, and this image is among the best-known portraits of Darwin.

Darwin family photograph albums from the lifetime of Charles Darwin are of the very greatest rarity. This is likely the only example in private hands. This album is one of the most desirable Darwin photographic objects extant.