News | February 7, 2018

The Huntington Acquires Unique Darwin Photo Album

darwin-family_600.jpgSan Marino, CA—The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens announced today that it has acquired a unique photograph album, containing 19 prints, that offers a tantalizing glimpse into the intimate family circle of renowned scientist Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Inscribed to a member of Darwin's circle about whom nothing is known, and depicting several unpublished images of sitters ranging from close family members to those not yet identified, the rarity was purchased at The Huntington's 21st annual Library Collectors' Council meeting held earlier this month. 

The Council also purchased manuscript collections of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742-1811), the United Kingdom's Home Secretary, Secretary of War, and First Lord of the Admiralty, and of James Francis Mercer (d. 1756), a British officer killed during the Seven Years' War while commanding Fort Oswego in New York.

In addition, The Huntington acquired a letter by Italian explorer and Spanish naval officer Alejandro Malaspina (1754-1810), reporting to the viceroy of New Spain in 1790 on a scientific expedition he co-commanded to the Americas and the Pacific. The Library Collectors' Council is a group of 46 families who assist in the development of the collections by supporting the purchase of important works that the Library would not otherwise be able to afford.

"This year's acquisitions extend and enhance our existing collections in history, the history of science, and photography," said Sandra Brooke, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. "Such materials have the potential to open new and unexpected pathways for research in these fields. We are deeply grateful to the Collectors' Council for its vision and exceptional support."

Highlights of the newly purchased materials:

A Darwin Family Photograph Album

This unique carte-de-visite photograph album of 19 albumen prints offers a tantalizing glimpse into the intimate family circle of Charles Darwin, the English scientist best known for his work on the theory of evolution. Victorian photographic albums were cherished artifacts in middle- to upper-class homes, serving as keepsakes to memorialize family and friends. This one offers scholars new insight into the complex web of interpersonal relationships surrounding Darwin. "While we know some of the individuals in the pictures, including Darwin himself, of course, there are others that we have yet to identify," said Jennifer Watts, The Huntington's curator of photography and visual culture. "This is, in a very straightforward way, a researcher's dream."

Similar in size to a prayer book, this album of portraits has the look and feel of a devotional tome, Watts added. "Its sacramental appearance runs counter to our contemporary view of Darwin as pronouncer and arbiter of evolution. At a time in which family bonds proved indispensable—both as social networks and as a means of labor—this album is an object at the intersection of science and sentimentality."

Several of the 10 Darwin offspring were deeply involved in their father's work; six are represented in the album. Some of the images are studio portraits by such notable photographers as Oscar G. Rejlander, who collaborated with Darwin on his The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Other pictures are intimate (and unpublished) tableaus: an unknown baby on the lap of a Darwin son; a Darwin daughter in a windowsill with her two dogs. Also included are pictures of Darwin, his wife, Emma, and children George Howard; Horace (a scientist and the youngest of the Darwin children to survive into adulthood); Elizabeth ("Bessy"); and Henrietta Emma ("Etty") Litchfield.

Henrietta was a valued companion to her father, an editor of his work, and a correspondent with both of her parents. She was a linchpin in the Darwin circle, helping to anchor the scientific and domestic activities of her family. Henrietta's husband, Richard Buckley Litchfield, inscribed the album to a woman named Anne Griffiths in 1879.

The album's many mysteries invite scholarly scrutiny. Nothing is known of Anne Griffiths or the Darwin family's relationship to her. Several unpublished images depict as yet unidentified sitters—none of them known to be blood relatives—who, once identified, will prove crucial in extending our understanding of Darwin's inner circle.

In 1993, The Huntington acquired one of the greatest collections of Darwiniana ever assembled: the Warren D. Mohr collection of 1,600 books, caricatures, engravings, and photographs.

"In one fell swoop, the acquisition of the Mohr collection made The Huntington an international hub for scholars interested in the life and legacy of Charles Darwin," said Daniel Lewis, Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science and Technology at The Huntington. "Adding this extraordinary photograph album to our Darwin holdings invites the scholarly world to help us puzzle out the evolution of this great scientist's human ties."

Image: Charles Darwin (left) and his daughter Henrietta Emma "Etty" Litchfield. Carte-de-visite Photograph Album (Down, Kent, 1871-1879), 19 albumen prints (2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.