There is little known about the artist, Mr J. W. Beaufort except that he had experience of painting portraits. He offered to paint this portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace for which he completed using photographs.
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) is one of the great names in the history of science. His work spanned many scientific fields including botany, geology and zoology. In 1844 he gained a teaching post at Leicester Collegiate School where he met the naturalist Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892) who introduced him to the subject of entomology. Inspired by William H. Edward’s work, A Voyage up the River Amazon, Wallace and Bates decided to travel to the Amazon in 1848. By 1850 the two men parted company. Wallace concentrated on collecting natural history specimens from the central Amazon and Rio Negro. Leaving the region in 1852, his large collection of specimens was lost in a shipping disaster.
In 1854 Wallace continued his collecting in the Malay archipelago. In nearly eight years Wallace had collected 126, 500 natural history specimens. This included more than 200 new species of birds and over 1,000 new species of insects, most of which are incorporated in the Natural History Museum collections. His book, The Malay Archipelago published in 1869 was extremely successful.
Wallace however, is best known for the fact that both he and Charles Darwin had independently come to the conclusion that evolution could be explained by a process of Natural Selection. Wallace sent Darwin an essay explaining his ideas, conclusions that Darwin had been working on for twenty years. On 1st July 1858 Wallace’s paper 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type' was read jointly with an extract from Darwin’s then unpublished manuscript on natural selection at the Linnean Society in London. The following year Darwin published his famous book, On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection (1859) which detailed his own theory of evolution.
Wallace continued to work and publish actively until his
death in 1913.
Presented by the Wallace Memorial Committee and unveiled in the Museum on 23 June 1923.
Shortly after the death of Alfred Russel Wallace in 1913 a committee was formed with the object of placing memorials at Westminster Abbey and the Natural History Museum. This portrait painted by Beaufort from photographs and hung in the Central Hall of the Natural History Museum until 1971.
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Wallace, A. R. and Knight, D. (eds.) (2004) Scientific Travellers, 1790-1877. v. 7, The Malay Archipelago. Routledge: New York. 478 pp.
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