image darwin p0031
Image number: RS.2
Credit: © The Royal Society
Looking for a special gift? Buy a print of this image.

Portrait of Charles Darwin




Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882, British), Naturalist


Mabel Beatrice Messer (British), Painter


John Collier (1850-1934, British), Painter

Object type



height (framed canvas): 1270mm
width (framed canvas): 995mm


Content object

   > accessory
      > hat


The portrait is of an elderly Charles Darwin, shown with a full white beard. Collier’s original painting was completed by July-August 1881 and shows the naturalist in the last year of his life.
Darwin’s appearance and costume in this copy portrait conform to the description left by his son Francis: “His beard was full and almost untrimmed, the hair being grey and white, fine rather than coarse, and wavy or frizzled. His moustache was somewhat disfigured by being cut short and square across. He became very bald, having only a fringe of dark hair behind…He wore dark clothes, of a loose and easy fit. Of late years he gave up the tall hat even in London, and wore a soft black one in winter, and a big straw hat in summer. His usual out-of-doors dress was the short cloak” [Francis Darwin (ed), The life and letters of Charles Darwin including an autobiographical chapter…in three volumes (London, John Murray, 1888), vol.1 pp.111-112]

Three-quarter length portrait. Darwin is shown standing, facing the viewer, dressed in a broad-buttoned black cloak draped over the shoulders. He holds a dark broad brimmed hat left-handed, thumb to the fore.

Object history

Royal Society Council Minutes indicate that the portrait was made from Collier’s second version of the picture: “It was agreed that a copy of the Hon. John Collier’s portrait of Mr.Charles Darwin from the National Portrait Gallery, made by Miss M.B. Messer, be purchased at a cost of 15 guineas” [Royal Society Minutes of Council, Printed, vol. 11, 1914-20, 24 February 1916, minute 3, p.129].

Associated place

<The World>
   > Europe
      > United Kingdom