Darwin Family Portraits for Sotheby’s Sale of Early British Paintings

In the anniversary year when interest in the life and work of Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) is as high as ever, Sotheby’s announced that it will offer for sale three exceptionally rare portraits of members of his family in its sale of Early British Paintings on Thursday, July 9, 2009.

joseph-wrighThe three portraits depict Charles Darwin’s grandfather, the consultant and physician Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802); his great uncle, William Alvey Darwin (1726-1783) and also William’s wife, Jane Darwin (1746-1835) with their son, William Brown Darwin (1774-1841). All three paintings are the work of Joseph Wright of Derby, one of the foremost portrait artists of the day. The three works have never appeared at auction before, having been commissioned by William Alvey Darwin in the late 18th century and having since passed down through successive generations of William’s family. The group has a combined estimate of £290,000-410,000.

Portrait of Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) is expected to bring £100,000-150,000 and the sitter was one of the most famous men of his day. At the time it was painted in 1770, Erasmus Darwin’s medical practice dominated his life and he travelled extensively to treat patients. He was concerned with illnesses of both the body and mind, with heredity and with broad public health issues, including improving nutrition and ventilation. Erasmus was also a keen inventor and botanist. The portrait is one of two versions of him in his role as consultant and physician from 1770; the second is now on permanent loan to Darwin College in Cambridge.

Portrait of Jane Darwin (1746-1835) and Her Son William Brown Darwin (1774 1841) has an estimate of £150,000-200,000 while Portrait of William Alvey Darwin (1726-1783) is estimated at £40,000-60,000.

Image: Joseph Wright of Derby, Portrait of Jane Darwin (1746-1835) and Her Son William Brown Darwin (1774-1841) has an estimate of £150,000-200,000