What Darwin looked like

July 10, 2013 • 11:57 am

Reader Fred sent a really nice colorized photo of Darwin:

Darwin_color (2)

and added this information in his email:

I came across this today and thought you’d like it.  It’s a colorized photo of Charles Darwin and it’s really nicely done; it feels quite real.  The colorist, who goes by “Zuzah” is an 18 year-old from Denmark.  What’s funny is that I could totally see this being used as a cover for an Intelligent Design book called “Darwin’s Secret.” Here’s the page the image is from.  He’s got lots of other great photos there, many from the Civil War, but also a nice Grace Kelly, and a couple of Einsteins.  (This link goes directly to the Darwin entry but if you click on ColorizedHistory at the top it takes you to the main page.)

I thought I’d seen every photo of Darwin, but didn’t know this one, so I suspected it was a Photoshop job. However, it does appear to be real, and you can see the original here.  Why do you suppose he was making the “Shhh!” gesture? Perhaps it was a pose denoting profound thought.

I often wish I could hear what Darwin’s voice sounded like. I imagine it as rather high and nasal, but with a patrician British accent.  It’s a pity so much history was lost before there were movies and recordings.

42 thoughts on “What Darwin looked like

  1. Is it just me or does Dan Dennet(minus the glasses) look more and more like Darwin?

    I wish I could grow a beard like that.

    1. Dennett used this similarity in some of his presentation slides when I saw him lecture a few years ago.

  2. First, that’s a superb portrait, very well done.

    But I suspect that the artist took more liberties with his original source material than just the colorization. In particular, the photographic style, including a very shallow depth of field and off-center placement, is much more modern than Darwin. The hand doesn’t look entirely natural, either, and it’s too much in focus for the depth of field.

    I would call this a portrait, not a photograph. But, again, it’s a very good portrait.



    1. I have seen this picture (in b &w) many times. The off-center portrait, though unusual, is apparently how this picture was taken. Also, the out of focus areas are really very common for photographic portraits of this era. You can see similar effects in photos of Lincoln, for ex. I rather like the effect since it gives a kind of 3-D look.

      What is odd is his clubbed fore-finger. Could that signify a health problem?

  3. I thought it would difficult to keep your hand still long enough given he long exposure times in those days. I tried it and with my thumb under my chin it worked. But it’s intriguing to ask why he did this. Almost as if he wanted to say: “I know a secret, but shhh…”

  4. Seems as though I’ve heard a linguist say that the upper-class British accent we know today didn’t start to become fashionable until the late 19th century, so maybe toward the end of Darwin’s life. Might he have actually sounded more “American?”

  5. Looks like the IDiots got to it some time ago. I couldn’t get it to run for me, but besides the title, blocked comments surely say it’s from that insecure bunch of liars. A Google Images search of Darwin shh brought up a bunch of copies. I’m still skeptical that it’s actually CD’s hand.

    1. I am somewhat skeptical as well. Looks like some clever photoshopping. A quick web search found this portrait several times, but never with any additional info. No trace of it as far as I can see on Darwin Online or the like, nor do I remember ever seeing this picture in any of my many Darwin-related books. Apparently there are about 50+ known portraits of Darwin, but I am not sure this is one of them.

    2. This mysterious pose is driving me crazy! No one posed like that! I’m wondering if he requested it since it was unusual & he often sat for photographs.

  6. I asked Richard Carter (Friends of Darwin) he says – Friends of Darwin ‏@friendsofdarwin 3m

    @briclondon Based on real photo. Hand/finger was added. @kejames has met Darwin’s finger-double, I think. Staff member at @NHM_London (?)

  7. The “original” is a fake. As other commenters noted, it’s composition is very un-Victorian. The actual original seems to be this Elliott & Fry portrait from 1881. Note that the photoshopper has reversed the image– Darwin’s beard curls left in the photoshopped version, his right eyebrow (rather than the left) is bushier in the photoshopped version, and the mole/pimple/bump is to the left of his nose (rather than the right) in the photoshopped version. Several independent photos at the National Portrait Gallery confirm that the Elliott & Fry photo is correctly oriented.

    1. So that says the hand was photoshopped so he isn’t really making the shhhh pose at all? I must have an answer to this pose question! I must! 🙂

      1. Photoshopped hand or no, I say it’s not a “shhh” pose because the lips aren’t pursed. I go with “deep thought” or “as soon as you finish speaking, I’m ready with my contribution.”

        1. The (photo-shopped addendum finger) does not seem to me intended at all to convey a request to shush; I could go instead with a mid-sentence contemplative finger to the lip, a social time out signal, to allow one to ponder for just a bit before completing one’s thought.

          1. I agree. However, Google images for Darwin Contemplative Finger doesn’t deliver any goods but Darwin Shh does.

    2. They did the same with the Billy the Kid photo to make him look left handed, which he was not.

        1. Historians disagree. Many think it was an innocent mistake. All have discounted the premise that it was done so Paul Newman could play him as The Left Handed Gun out to avenge the murder of his boss, Henry Tunstell… 😉

    1. I’ll go. The vacant space at right fairly begs for a thought bubble with two simple words: “I think…”

  8. Still a great “portrait”.

    The timing is very good, I’m a fair way through Janet Browne’s excellent 2-volume Darwin biography. Currently up to page 295 in Vol.2 “The Power of Place”. Up to around 1868. It’s superb and you really get a feel for the day to day existence he had.

  9. I often wish I could hear what Darwin’s voice sounded like. I imagine it as rather high and nasal, but with a patrician British accent.

    I always imagine he sounded like my Dad.

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