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On the evening of 24 January 2013, comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey unveiled this striking portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace at the top of our grand Central Hall staircase, near to the Charles Darwin statue.

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As they gather around the famous Diplodocus bones in the Museum's most impressive meeting space, visitors can now enjoy the gaze from on high of the two greatest figures in natural history - not to mention the two greatest beards.

 

The unveiling of the painting marked the official launch of Wallace100 and the Wallace Letters Online resource which are part of the celebrations in this year's anniversary of Wallace's death. The Museum plays a central part in these activities and forthcoming events.

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Guests at the Wallace100 launch event taking photos of the portrait being unveiled. Sir David Attenborough was among those who attended.

 

Alfred Russel Wallace 1823 - 1913 was an intrepid explorer, brilliant naturalist and remarkable intellectual. It's sometimes overlooked that he co-discovered the process of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin. But this year's anniversary events should help redress the balance.

 

As a long-time admirer of Wallace and also the Patron of the Wallace Memorial Fund, Bill Bailey has been in the media spotlight a lot of late talking about Wallace's under-recognised contribution to our understanding of the natural world.

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Bill Bailey and the Museum's Wallace expert, Dr George Beccaloni (right), at the unveiling in our Central Hall.

 

Museum curator and Wallace expert Dr George Beccaloni (above right), tells me how pleased he is to see the portrait return to its original place near the statue of Charles Darwin after an absence of over 40 years:

 

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'The Central Hall is a beautiful space, but it has always struck me as being a little "cold" and my aesthetic sense was disturbed by the fact that the memorials on the wall of the central staircase are asymmetrical - there being nothing on the wall above and to the right of the Charles Darwin statue to match the monument to Selous on the opposite side.

 

'With the unveiling of the Wallace painting both problems are gone. The space seems a lot warmer with Wallace looking benevolently down at the crowds and the painting fills the empty gap superbly on the wall near Darwin. Perfect!'

George Beccaloni

 

The magnificent oil painting by artist J W Beaufort was donated to the Natural History Museum in 1923. At its original unveiling, the President of the Royal Society said of Wallace and Darwin in his opening speech:

'Circumstances arranged that the discoveries of these two men came, as it were, at the same moment and on the very same theme side by side before the scientific world. Such an attendant circumstance might, in some cases, have proved an embarrassment to one or other of them, but, as we all know, instead of being an embarrassment it formed a bond of generous association between them, each one of them striving to exalt the merits of the other. That part of the history of science will ever remain as a noble and inspiring feature connected with the work of these two men. Therefore the picture that we have there is not only a memorial of one whose memory is part of the historic treasure of science, but it will also be an abiding source of inspiration for the future, inasmuch as it represents a noble trait of character as well as genius, which went together in the personality of Alfred Russel Wallace.'

Follow the painting up to the newly-opened Treasures Cadogan Gallery to discover Wallace's insects on show. And you can find out a lot more about the history of Wallace's portrait in George's Wallace100 blog.

 

Read the news story about the unveiling and Wallace100 launch

 

Find out about the Wallace100 celebrations

 

Keep updated on all the Wallace events coming up at the Museum and nationally

 

Uncover the Wallace Letters Online

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It's just over one month since we opened our beautiful permanent gallery showcasing the Museum's 22 most prized objects and specimens. In that short space of time, 1,000s of visitors, including HRH The Duchess of Cambridge (and the little royal on the way) who opened the gallery, have already enjoyed Treasures in the new Cadogan Gallery. Many of you have also been voting for your favourite exhibit in the gallery, and in our new year Top 10 Treasures poll, being huge and hairy is stll a winner for Guy the gorilla, who's at Number 1...  (You can select each image below to enlarge it.)

Your top 10 Treasures

1. Guy the gorilla

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London Zoo’s much-loved resident, Guy, a western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), remains as majestic and iconic as he was in his time. Guy stands proudly at the righthand entrance of the Cadogan Gallery, at the top of the Central Hall's grand staircase, welcoming visitors into Treasures. It's great to think that he is regaining the popularity he had in life over 30 years ago. Listen out for our podcast coming soon, telling Guy's unique story from childhood star to preserved treasure here at the Museum.

 

2. Blaschka glass models of sea creatures

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Glimmering away in the gallery at the other end to Guy, the 3 delicate Blaschka glass artworks of sea creatures are as enigmatic and eye-catching. They were made with impeccable accuracy using techniques no one has been able to replicate since. Giles Miller, Curator of Micropalaeontology, tells the story of how the Blaschka's went from cardboard box to Treasure on display in his own blog.

3. Dodo skeleton

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The dodo skeleton on show is unmissable. There are so few complete skeletons that we may never know exactly how they looked or lived. The dodo is one of the first widely acknowledged cases of human-caused extinction. It's fame was secured by Lewis Carroll in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

4. Neanderthal skull

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This remarkable specimen in Treasures is the first adult skull of a Neanderthal ever discovered. They were our closest known relatives and this specimen helped begin the science of palaeoanthropology – the study of ancient humans.

5. Archaeopteryx fossil

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Archaeopteryx is the earliest known bird and this is the first skeleton specimen ever found. It is the most valuable fossil in the Museum’s collection. This is the type specimen of the species, the one to which all others are compared. So for many, the chance to see this Archaeopteryx in person is a special joy.

6 On the Origin of Species book

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We had to include this masterpiece in Treasures. It's an inspiration to view the rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It is the most important book in biology, in which Darwin describes his theory of evolution by natural selection.

7. Great auk

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You might not all know it, but the great auk is one of the most powerful symbols of the damage humans can cause. The species became extinct not through habitat loss, but due to centuries of intense exploitation.

8. Alfred Russel Wallace's insects

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The gorgeous and diverse creatures in the insect case on display are from Alfred Russel Wallace’s personal collection. He co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin. He kept very few of the specimens he collected.

9. Barbary lion skull

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You can see why this lion was the jewel of the King’s zoo in the Tower of London 700 years ago. The skull and teeth are even more dramatic up close than we have already witnessed in photographs. It is also the oldest lion found in the UK after the extinction of native wild lions.

10. Hans Sloane's nautilus shell

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Exquisitely carved, it is easy to imagine why this perfect shell was one of Sir Hans Sloane’s favourite specimens. You can really appreciate the intricate details in the carving as you observe the exhibit. Sloane's huge collection forms the core of the British and Natural History Museums.

 

Make sure you experience these and the other 12 amazing objects in Treasures on your next visit to the Museum. Each is accompanied by scientific information and there is more to unearth on the digital screens in the gallery. Entry to the new gallery is free.

 

Vote for your favourite treasure online

Get a glimpse inside the Treasures Cadogan Gallery in our audio slideshow