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4 Posts tagged with the central_hall tag

So far in this series of posts on the making of the Wallace statue, we've described the background to the project and introduced me as the sculptor, and shown the important first stages of preparation.


In this third entry in the series, things are beginning to take shape:


The steel and wood armature that will support the plaster and clay of the sculpture.



Steel rods are used to support the arms, and a number of screws are added to the central wooden board and the leg frames in order to give greater support for the light-weight materials that are added next.



The rough shape of the body and limbs are 'blocked-out' using light-weight materials such as polystyrene foam and wood-wool (which is bound tightly to the armature using strong twine). It is onto these materials that the plaster and clay will be added.


More photos soon!


Anthony Smith


Read the earlier posts in this series:



Watch a 30 minute Nature Live talk with George Beccaloni and Caroline Catchpole about Wallace's early life and his adventures in the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago. The event on 25 January 2013 marked the simultaneous launch of the Museum's Wallace100 events programme and Wallace Letters Online, and it features footage of comedian and Wallace fan Bill Bailey unveiling the magnificent portrait of Wallace, newly reinstated in the Museum's Central Hall.




WLO.JPGWallace Letters Online (WLO), an online archive giving everyone access to the correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, is launched today by comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey at the Natural History Museum. Bailey will also be launching Wallace100, a programme of events to mark the centenary of Wallace’s death, by unveiling an impressive portrait of Wallace in the Museum’s iconic Central Hall, near the famous statue of Darwin.


WLO brings together all surviving letters to and from Wallace, both personal and scholarly, for the first time. His unpublished correspondence is scattered across the collections of more than 100 institutions worldwide so it has been very difficult for people to study, until now.


Highlights in WLO include the fascinating letters he wrote and received during his epic trip to the Malay Archipelago between 1854 and 1862, and his complete correspondence with Charles Darwin, which has never been published in full before. Online materials will also include other important documents, such as Wallace's notebooks from the Museum’s Wallace Family Archive.


Alfred Russel Wallace is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists of all time. Not only did he independently discover natural selection, he also founded the science of evolutionary biogeography; the study of the geographical distribution of plants and animals.


He made significant contributions to academic fields as diverse as anthropology and epidemiology, and was an intrepid traveller and avid collector of natural history specimens who sent back thousands of species new to science from South America and south-east Asia.


About 4,500 letters to and from Wallace are known to survive, with more than half of these held in the collections of the Natural History Museum (1,200) and the British Library (1,600). The Wallace Correspondence Project has so far digitised about 95 per cent of the letters, and is searching for others hidden away in libraries and private collections around the world. Wallace Letters Online is the Web interface to the Wallace Correspondence Project's electronic database of Wallace's letters.


Dr George Beccaloni, Director of the Wallace Correspondence Project and a curator here at the Museum says, ‘Collating, transcribing and making this material freely available online marks a huge advance in understanding this great man. It presents a wealth of new information for those interested in Wallace’s life, work and beliefs. I hope it will help build a new and more accurate picture of him, and help to bring him out of Darwin's shadow.'


More details and highlights of WLO


WLO aims to catalogue and provide images and transcripts of all known letters sent to or written by Wallace (including the original envelopes and any enclosures), plus selected letters between others which contain important information pertaining to Wallace (e.g. a letter from Charles Darwin to Thomas Huxley which discusses Wallace). WLO also includes a selection of other important manuscript documents and other items which are not letters e.g. Wallace's notebooks in the Museum's Wallace Family Archive.


Current coverage


WLO currently contains records of 4,151 letters, of which 2,026 were written by ARW, 1,856 were sent to ARW and 269 are third party letters which pertain to ARW. It also contains details of 26 other documents such as notebooks.


WLO currently contains about 95% of Wallace's known surviving correspondence, including all of Wallace's early (pre. 1863) correspondence, and all of the surviving letters he sent or received during his epic trip to the Malay Archipelago between March 1854 and April 1862. It also includes the complete surviving Darwin-Wallace correspondence in full for the first time. Previous published compilations of the Darwin-Wallace letters (i.e. Darwin (1893), Marchant (1916)) are incomplete and the published transcripts were often heavily edited and sometimes suffer from important omissions of text.


Highlights of WLO


Note: If you would like to find an item in WLO (e.g. WCP4766), go to the Search Page and type the item number minus the "WCP" prefix (e.g. 4766), into the "WCP Number" search box.


To see the database entry for each highlight listed below, click the WCP number.



A) Letters


There follows a selection of key letters relating to some of Wallace's greatest discoveries: evolution by natural selection; the Wallace Line; and warning colouration.


Early life (1823-1848)


WCP346: Wallace to Henry Walter Bates, 28 December 1845. Wallace discusses his views of the book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation - the work which convinced him of the reality of evolution and started him on his quest to discover the mechanism which drives it.  For more information about this letter see here.


WCP348: Wallace to Bates, 11 October 1847. This letter contains his famous statement "I begin to feel rather dissatisfied with a mere local collection - little is to be learnt by it. I sh[ould]d like to take some one family, to study thoroughly - principally with a view to the theory of the origin of species. By that means I am strongly of [the] opinion that some definite results might be arrived at." This was the prelude to Wallace suggesting to Bates that they go on a expedition to Brazil to collect birds, butterflies and beetles in order to try to discover what drives the evolution of new species. For more information see here.


Four year expedition to the Amazon Basin (1848-1852)


WCP349: Wallace to Richard Spruce, 19 September 1852. "On Friday the 6th of August...about 9 o’clock in the morning just after breakfast the Captain (who was the owner of the vessel) came into the cabin & said "I am afraid the ship’s on fire. Come & see what you think of it"". After four years in Brazil, Wallace sailed back to England taking with him the most valuable part of the collection of natural history specimens he had made whilst there. Twenty-six days into the voyage, in the mid-Atlantic, the ship caught fire and sank, taking his specimens down with it. Wallace and the crew took to the lifeboats and miraculously, were rescued 10 days later. This letter describes the sinking.


Eight year expedition to the Malay Archipelago (1854-1862)


WCP1703: Wallace to his agent Samuel Stevens, 21 August 1856. This letter is the first mention of Wallace's famous discovery of what was later named the Wallace Line - the invisible boundary between the animals of Asia and the Australian region. He says "The Birds have however interested me much more than the insects, they are proportionally much more numerous, and throw great light on the laws of Geographical distribution of Animals in the East. The Islands of Baly & Lombock for instance, though of nearly the same size, of the same soil aspect elevation & climate and within sight of each other, yet differ considerably in their productions, and in fact belong to two quite distinct Zoological provinces, of which they form the extreme limits. As an instance I may mention the Cockatoos, a group of birds confined to Australia & the Moluccas, but quite unknown in Java Borneo Sumatra & Malacca. One species however (Plyctolophus sulphureus) is abundant in Lombock but is unknown in Baly, the island of Lombock forming the extreme eastern limit of its range & that of the whole family. Many other species illustrate the same fact & I am preparing a short account of them for publication." For more information see here.


WCP1454: Wallace to Joseph Dalton Hooker, 6 October 1858. This is the only letter which survives of those surrounding Wallace's discovery of natural selection and the subsequent publication of the theory with Charles Darwin. The letter illustrates Wallace's good nature and demonstrates that he was more interested in discovering new ideas than reaping personal glory from publishing them. For more information about the events surrounding Darwin and Wallace's joint publication on natural selection see here.


Later life in England (1862-1913)


WCP609: Charles Darwin to Wallace, 23 February 1867. Darwin and Wallace became good friends. In this letter Darwin writes "On Monday evening I called on Bates & put a difficulty before him, which he could not answer, & as on some former similar occasion, his first suggestion was, "you had better ask Wallace". My difficulty is, why are caterpillars sometimes so beautifully & artistically coloured?" Darwin was puzzled because his theory of sexual selection (where females choose their mates based on how attractive they are) would not apply to caterpillars  since they are immature.


Wallace replied the next day (WCP4083) with the suggestion that since some caterpillars "...are protected by a disagreeable taste or odour, it would be a positive advantage to them never to be mistaken for any of the palatable catterpillars, because a slight wound such as would be caused by a peck of a bird’s bill almost always I believe kills a growing catterpillar. Any gaudy & conspicuous colour therefore, that would plainly distinguish them from the brown & green eatable catterpillars, would enable birds to recognise them easily as at a kind not fit for food, & thus they would escape seizure which is as bad as being eaten.


Thus the concept of warning or aposematic colouration in animals was born.


WCP575: The Secretary of The Royal Society to Wallace, 6 November 1890. Informing Wallace (with unintended irony) that "... the Royal Society have awarded to you the Darwin Medal for your Independent Origination of the Theory of the Origin of Species by Natural Selection."


WCP543: The King's Private Secretary to Wallace, 2 November 1908. Informs Wallace that he is to be awarded the Order of Merit by the King " recognition of the great services which you have rendered to science." The Order is awarded by the ruling Monarch and is the highest civilian honour of Great Britain. It has been described as "...quite possibly, the most prestigious honour one can receive on planet Earth." There are only 24 living individuals in the Order at any given time, not including honorary appointees.


WCP4244: Wallace to the Biology Students at the University of Colorado, 12 January 1912. In this charming letter, Wallace aged 89 tells the students how "The wonders of nature have been the delight and solace of...[his]" and how "...nature has afforded...[him] ever increasing rapture, and the attempt to solve some of her myriad problems an ever-growing sense of mystery and awe". He ends by saying "I sincerely wish you all some of the delight in the mere contemplation of nature’s mysteries and beauties which I have enjoyed, and still enjoy."


B) Other documents


WCP4756: Wallace's personal annotated copy of the famous scientific paper he co-authored with Charles Darwin in 1858, in which the theory of evolution by natural selection was proposed for the first time. For more information about this historically important item see here.


WCP4766 and WCP4767: Wallace's two scientifically important 'Species Register' notebooks from his trip to the Malay Archipelago, which meticulously detail the species and specimens of insects, birds and other animals he collected on numerous islands he visited.


WCP4779 and WCP4806: Two of Wallace's address books, which cover the period from c. 1864 to his death in 1913, i.e. most of his adult life. Contacts listed include Charles Darwin, Rajah James Brooke (ruler of Sarawak) and hundreds of other, many of whom were very famous at the time.


The earlier of the address books was used by him between c. 1864 and c. 1872,  both for listing addresses and for recording his investments in shares etc. The investment records occupy one end of the book and the addresses start from the other end. Also in this book are some interesting lists, such as a list of the people which Wallace sent copies of his book The Malay Archipelago to when it was first published, and a list of "Persons to whom Hampden has abused me" (John Hampden was a flat earth believer who persecuted Wallace for very many years).


The second address book has been 'opened from both ends' like the first - with address lists running from one end, and notes about garden plants starting at the other end. There are four separate lists of addresses in this book, each of which is arranged from A to Z, and between each and the next address list are various notes and lists, some of which are historically quite important.


WCP4791: Wallace's Last Will and Testament.





Darwin, F. (Ed.). 1893. Charles Darwin; His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 365 pp.


Marchant, J. (Ed.). 1916. Alfred Russel Wallace; Letters and Reminiscences. London & New York: Cassell and Co. 2 vols., 507 pp.


In 1923, to mark the 100th anniversary of Alfred Russel Wallace's birth, a magnificent oil painting of him was donated to the Natural History Museum, London. It hung in the Museum's Central Hall for about 50 years, before being put into storage.


To help commemorate this year's 100th anniversary of Wallace's death, the portrait has been repaired, cleaned and revarnished, and it will soon be returned to its original position on the wall near the statue of Charles Darwin on the main stairs of the Central Hall. It will be unveiled by comedian and natural historian Bill Bailey at the launch of the Museum's Wallace100 events programme on the evening of 24 January, to go on public view from the 25th for about a year.

NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_004283_IA.jpgThe Museum's portrait of Wallace that will be on public view in the Central Hall from 25 January
© The Natural History Museum, London


History of the painting


Soon after Wallace's death in November 1913 a Memorial Committee was set-up with the purpose of raising money to commission three memorials to him: a marble medallion with a carved side profile of his head for Westminster Abbey; a painting of him; and statue of him for the Museum. However, because of the First World War, which began only 8 months after Wallace died, the fundraising campaign had to be cut short and only the medallion and the portrait were actually produced. The last was presented to the Museum by the artist Mr J. W. Beaufort who did not charge the Memorial Committee for his work.


The portrait was unveiled by Sir Charles Sherrington, President of the Royal Society, on 23 June 1923 during the 100th anniversary year of Wallace's birth. The following quotes are from the speech he gave (as recorded by The Times):


"The portrait that has a fitting place within the walls of this building in memory of Alfred Russel Wallace will be cherished for many reasons here. To those great collections for which this building is the house and the shrine he contributed generously and largely. Much of the fruit that he gathered in his expeditions in the Malay Archipelago enriches the galleries here. But he did even more for this collection and for all collections of natural history throughout the world by contributing a renowned and fertile idea [i.e. evolution by natural selection] which has lent and lends them a further significance and a new meaning. He contributed an interpretation which forms a guiding thread to a great deal of the study which such collections as this render possible...."


"I suppose that that happy circumstance of the juxtaposition of the portrait that we see there and of the statue [of Darwin] by which we are standing represents in collocation the commemoration of two men of whom it may be said, perhaps, that never a day passes but their two names rise to the memories of the director and the distinguished staff who are with him to study and to help others to study these collections."


The portrait was hung on the wall above and to the right of the Museum's statue of Charles Darwin on the stairs of the Central Hall and it remained in this position for almost 50 years (it was moved in 1971). From 2009 to 2012 it was on public display in the Historical Collections Room of the Darwin Centre Cocoon in the Museum's Orange Zone.

WallacePortraitInPositionIn1930.small.jpgPicture showing the Wallace painting in the Central Hall in c. 1930, from an Illustrated Guide to the Exhibition Galleries published in 1931. Note that the statue in the centre at this time is Richard Owen, not Darwin. The statue of Darwin was moved from this prime spot in September 1927 and Owen remained there until 2009, when the Darwin statue was moved back for Darwin200.


The artist


The only information mentioned about the artist of the portrait is that his name was Mr J. W. Beaufort. I believe that he was probably the professional photographer Mr John William Beaufort, who was born in 1864 and died in Guildford in 1943. There are several reasons for reaching this conclusion.


First, there do not appear to be any professional artists named J. W. Beaufort who were active at around this time. Second, the painting is based on a photograph of Wallace taken in 1903 by the famous photography firm Elliott & Fry, and John William Beaufort happened to be the manager of this firm from 1915 until 1926.


Another thing that supports this theory is that photographic firms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used to produce oil paintings for clients based on photographs, by photographically printing the image onto sensitised canvas and then painting over it. It would be interesting to know whether or not the Museum's portrait was produced in this way.


NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_004283_IA.jpgWallace photo. Copyright English Heritage
Beaufort's painting
© The Natural History Museum, London


Wallace photographed by Elliott & Fry in 1903.
© English Heritage