Diameter: 116.000 mm
Gift of the artist
Room 47: Europe 1800-1900
Cast bronze medal of Charles Darwin by Alphonse Legros
London, England, AD 1881
'There never was such a head for a medal as Darwin's'
Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) was a French painter who lived in London and taught at the Slade School of Art. He was responsible for the initial stimulus for the radical changes that the medal underwent in late nineteenth-century Victorian Britain.
Inpired by the Italian renaissance medals displayed in The British Museum, he started making his own large cast medals. They were issued in small editions, unlike the struck medals turned out in their thousands by factories in London and Birmingham, which dominated the market. In 1881 Legros started a medallic portrait series of the great men of his day: Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill and, shown here, the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82). Darwin's ground-breaking evolutionary theories had recently been published in the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859); they were to have a profound influence on future scientific theory.
Inspired by what he regarded as Darwin's 'powerful and noble head', Legros sketched his portrait on an envelope during a meeting of the Royal Society. The finished medal was enthusiastically received, the Magazine of Art noting that 'There never was such a head for a medal as Darwin's, and the artist has made the most of it.'
P. Attwood, Artistic circles: the medal in (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)