RECORD: Collier, J. 1930. [Recollection of Darwin] When Shaw posed for a portrait. Darwin and Huxley. Famous artist on celebrities he has painted. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, (15 August), p. 18. Transcribed by Christine Chua, edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 10.2019. RN1

NOTE: John Collier was interviewed for an earlier article 'A famous artist's recollections' which was published in The Straits Times on 8 October 1929 where there is a brief recollection on painting Darwin in 1881.

Introduction by Christine Chua:

The Honorable John Maler Collier, (1850-1934), was the son of Sir Robert Porrett. In August 1881, he painted Darwin, three-quarter length in oils. Emma Darwin recorded his visits with his wife Marian Huxley on 12 July 1881 and they stayed 19-22 July 1881. He married Marian Huxley (1859-87) in 1879. She was the second daughter of T.H. Huxley and was herself an artist, who made a pencil sketch of Darwin in 1878. She died after a bout of pneumonia in 1887. Two years after her death, Collier married Marian's sister Ethel Gladys (1866-1889). John Collier was on the "Personal Friends invited" list for Darwin's funeral in 1882.




Famous Artist on Celebrities He Has Painted.

I have been unusually fortunate in experiencing many moments during which I have felt myself inspired by contact with great personalities, said the Hon. John Collier, the artist, in an interview.

His Majesty the King when he was Duke of Cornwall and York, sat for a portrait. To paint him was a great experience. And I shall never forget it.

Lord Kitchener, a very interesting sitter, insisted in a way that although charming was nevertheless firm, upon having his portrait painted according to his own ideas. He wanted the Khyber Pass to be the background. And he would listen to no other suggestion. A rugged background, however fitted in rather well with his massive and handsome figure, and so I was glad to fall in with that suggestion. I was not so pleased though, when Lord Kitchener asked me to paint his syce (native groom) leading his charge up a road behind him.


I wanted Lord Kitchener to stand alone, that all the interest in the picture might centre round him. But Lord Kitchener felt happier in the idea that his charger would be seen too, and I am not at all sure that he did not consider it a matter of fairness to the syce that he should be on  view as well.

Whenever sitters were difficult, I consoled myself with the thought that it was extraordinarily fortunate for me that I was a painter at all and that I should not complain, since I was brought up to an entirely different vocation. I was intended for the Diplomatic Service, and with this end in view, went to France and Germany enlisting up at the University of Heidelberg to make a special study of languages.

I decided against the Diplomatic Service, however, and I was apprenticed to a firm of cotton brokers in the City. The firm went into liquidation and then I suggested to my father that I became a painter.       


He himself had always longed to be an artist, although he had achieved unusual success in life, having been Solicitor-General and Attorney-General under Mr. Gladstone.

I entered upon my new career with enthusiasm. Secretly, I had always longed to be a painter, but since my one and only triumph up till that time had been a drawing prize I won at Eton, I had not felt justified in suggesting Art as a career.

The Slade School under Sir Edward Poynter, the Munich Academy of Art, where I was a private pupil, and Paris, where I studied under Jean Paul Laurens were my next experiences. On my return, my father introduced me to Sir (then Mr.) Alma-Tadema, and I learned much from the great artist. He consented to paint his well-known picture "The Sculptor's Model" in my studio, that I might study his technique. Sir John Millais, another friend of my father's influenced me a good deal in my work.

Possibly the most interesting thing about my work is the fact that it had brought me in contact with the greatest thinkers of the period.

Early in my career, I had the unforgettable privilege of painting Charles Darwin.

Darwin is as vivid in my memory as though I had seen him yesterday. Delicate looking and fragile, he gave one none the less an impression of power.

I had to go to Mr. Darwin's house in Downe to paint him, for he was a chronic invalid. He told me that he had never recovered his health after the terrific seasickness he had suffered on board the Rattlesnake which provided so much of the material for the Origin of Species.

I painted him in his study. In my mind, however, I associate him with nature which he loved and wished to understand. And I shall never forget the frankness with which he was willing to discuss with me his own work and any other subject that cropped up.


He was not a fighter. His gentle and unassuming nature did not lend itself to championing views that clashed with those of others. But when I remarked upon this, he assured me, smilingly, that it was not he himself who had fought and won the battles that raged over the subject of Evolution but his great friend Huxley.

Huxley himself I painted twice. In the first picture he is standing up with a skull in his hand - a replica of this is in the National Portrait Gallery (as well as a replica of the Darwin portrait at Marlborough Place). The second portrait was painted in his study with his favourite books lining the walls behind him. I developed an admiration and affection for Huxley the man, as great as that for Huxley the thinker. He was upright, loyal, kind.

People were inclined to imagine him as satirical, a hard and fierce fighter, a man who would deal harshly with those who opposed his views. This is an incorrect idea. He would never deal unkindly with anybody who showed intelligence and who was serious. In his own home, with his friends and family around him, he was genial, witty and most affectionate, and he was always long-suffering with young people.

I found this impression long before I myself was established in that home circle, although eventually this came to pass, for I married one of Huxley's daughters. After her untimely death, with Huxley's full approval, I married her sister, my present wife.

Of course I have painted other interesting people. Kipling, I painted twice. Of late years I regard my portrait of Bernard Shaw as one of my very best works. I will confess that I felt some anxiety as to the kind of sitter he would make. In point of fact, he was docility itself. He sat contently for hours, cross-legged, on his chair. Of course he was a most delightful talker.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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