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A case for attribution: the Emma Darwin portrait

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Duncan Needham.

This talk will present the evidence for attributing the Emma Darwin portrait to the artist Charles Fairfax Murray, having previously been held as English School.

Charles Fairfax Murray was John Ruskin’s protégé, assistant to both Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris, and has recently been referred to as ‘The Unknown Pre-Raphaelite’.

In 1886, John Henry Middleton, Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, and later the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum (1889-92) and South Kensington Museum (1892-96), wrote to Murray informing of George Darwin’s wishes for a portrait of his mother, Emma Darwin. The following correspondences between the Darwins, Charles Fairfax Murray and others regarding the portrait reveal insights into the Darwins’ familial dynamics and their position of influence within Cambridge’s social and academic elite, while the history of the commission helps to explain the stylistic decisions and successes of the portrait.

While the portrait acts as an introductory tool to Charles Fairfax Murray, the manner of its production represents a significant basis for discussion of Murray’s role as an artist, a copyist, and his increased movement into art dealership and connoisseurship, which led to his work as a consultant for the South Kensington Museum and his donations to major public collections.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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