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“I like this photograph much better than any other which has been taken of me.” – Darwin on the Cameron portrait

(DARWIN, CHARLES.) Cameron, Julia Margaret. (English) Charles Darwin

London, London, [1893]

Photogravure, matted. Approx. 8 x 10½ in. Some surface wear, browning. Handsomely framed, with an early manuscript caption giving Darwin’s birth and death dates on the mount.

THE GREAT DARWIN PORTRAIT, Julia Margaret Cameron’s 1868 portrait of Darwin is probably the most famous photograph of a 19th-century scientist. Darwin remarked, “I like this photograph much better than any other which has been taken of me.”

In 1868, Darwin and his family traveled to the Isle of Wight, both for a long holiday and to aid in his recuperation from a recent illness. The Darwins rented a house from Cameron and were immediately charmed by the photographer:

“She received the whole family with open-hearted kindness and hospitality, and Darwin always retained a warm feeling of friendship for her. When they left she came to see them off, loading them with presents of photographs. Moved, Darwin said: ‘Mrs. Cameron, there are sixteen people in this house, all in love with you.’ Darwin paid her for her portraits of him, and as the Camerons had by that time lost a great deal of money through the continued failure of the coffee crop, she gladly accepted payment and ran boasting to her husband, ‘Look, Charles, what a lot of money!’” (Gernsheim, Julia Margaret Cameron)

Cameron is now widely regarded as one of the most accomplished photographers of all time. Her portraits are easily recognized by dramatic lighting, soft focus, and feeling of character.

This photogravure is likely from Cameron’s Alfred, Lord Tennyson and his Friends (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1893), a series of 25 portraits from Cameron’s portraits.