News | Published: Wed 9 Feb 2011

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New display offers insight into family life of Charles Darwin

From today visitors to the Fitzwilliam can see a rare portrait miniature of Susannah Wedgwood - the mother of Charles Darwin - on display in Gallery 3.

This small 1793 watercolour on ivory by the artist Peter Paillou the Younger was bequeathed to the museum in 2009 by Dr Milo Keynes, the sitter's great-great-grandson. It portrays the 28 year-old Susannah - the eldest daughter of Wedgwood pottery founder Josiah Wedgwood - before she married the man who would become Charles Darwin's father, Robert Waring Darwin. Susannah, who was known as 'Sukey', died in 1817 when Charles was only eight years old, and the great naturalist wrote in later life at his dismay in not being able to remember his mother's face. Darwin laid eyes on this miniature for the first time in 1881, when it was discovered amongst his late brother Erasmus' possessions, and the portrait was to prove crucial in keeping the memory of Susannah's appearance alive.

The miniature is accompanied on display by a portrait of Darwin himself produced in the 1870s by Alphonse Legros (1837-1911). Web users can enjoy a new podcast about the miniature by author and Darwin's great-great-grandson Randal Keynes, explaining the true significance of this portrait for Darwin, and why portraits of loved ones were so important to both the Wedgwood and Darwin families.


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