Scientist of the Day - John Maler Collier
John Maler Collier, an English portrait painter, was born Jan. 27, 1850. There were a number of talented portrait artists in late Victorian England, as a visit to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London will bear out, but Collier stands out for us, because he did portraits of an unusually large number of scientists. This may be the result of his marrying into a scientific family; he wedded Marion Huxley, the daughter of the great anatomist Thomas H. Huxley, in 1879, and after she died 8 years later, Collier married her sister Ethel Huxley in 1889. So it is not surprising that we have several handsome portraits of Huxley by Collier; we see above the one in the NPG (first image). Collier also did portraits of the astronomer William Huggins, now in the NPG (second image), and the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, now in the Royal Society of London (third image).
Our favorite Collier portrait, indeed everyone's favorite Collier portrait, is the one he did of Charles Darwin in 1881, the year before Darwin's death. It exists in two nearly identical versions; the original, in the Linnean Society of London, and a copy by Collier himself in 1883, offered as a gift to the Darwin family, who later donated it to the NPG (fourth image). It is such an arresting portrait, with the figure of Darwin at once humble and aged, yet with a powerfully compelling presence; it is no wonder that this was Darwin’s own favorite representation of himself, of the dozens that were made after he became world-famous.
Not all of Collier’s portraits were formal ones; the oil he did of his first wife Marion is especially touching (fifth image), given her tragic early death.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to email@example.com.