In the People's Gallery, beside the window into the library, there is an oil painting of a man with wonderful Victorian sideburns, leaning nonchalantly on a pile of books and holding a human skull. For many years this was described in the Museum catalogue as "portrait of an old man". It was only when a conservator came to do a condition report on the painting that it was identified as something rather more exiting. Our painting is signed John Collier and the conservator recognised it as a smaller version of Collier's portrait of T H Huxley, which is in the National Portrait Gallery.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) was an eminent scientist and an early defender of Charles Darwin, sometimes referred to as 'Darwin's Bulldog'. In 1883 he hired a house in Milford for the summer. The family's connection with the area continued when Huxley's son Leonard came to teach at Charterhouse and Leonard's wife Julia founded Prior's Field School. Leonard and Julia's son Aldous was born in Godalming.
The artist John Collier married T H Huxley's daughter Marian, and after her early death married her sister Ethel. In later life he told a journalist that he was working on a series of 'miniatures' of his best portraits and it may be that our painting is one of these, although no other examples are known.
T H Huxley is not the only local evolutionary connection. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) took the water cure treatment at Moor Park, near Farnham during the stressful build up to the publication of 'The Origin of Species'. And Alfred Russel Wallace lived on Frith Hill from 1881–1901. Wallace (1823-1913) has been in the news this month, with a statue of him being unveiled in the Natural History Museum by David Attenborough. Wallace worked independently on the theory of evolution, and it was a paper which he sent to Darwin to review which prompted Darwin to finally publish his ideas. By agreement, the two men co-published in a paper read to the Linnean Society of London on 1st July 1858. The Darwin-Wallace medal is awarded annually by the Linnean Society for "major advances in evolutionary biology".
The Huxley family, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace are all in the People's Gallery, and on the Images of Godalming computer, and you can find out more about them in the Local Studies Library.