Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, was a central figure in the 18th-century British Enlightenment.

A true polymath, he was a gifted physician, botanist, author, poet and inventor. He was an atheist and an early proponent of evolution, expressing his ideas in his poem The Temple of Nature. Joseph Wright of Derby was the lead artist of the Enlightenment. While he was best known for his scientific works such as the iconic Experiment with a Bird in an Air Pump, but much of his output was portraiture. Darwin sat for Wright of Derby several times throughout his career, including a portrait made when he was in his 60s, which was bought for Derby Museum and Art Gallery with help from the Art Fund. The scientist was 40 when he sat for this portrait, which was owned by his elder brother William and remained in the family until sold at auction in 2009. Wright only created two copies of this painting; the other is currently on loan to Darwin College Cambridge from a private collection.


William Alvey Darwin, Erasmus Darwin's elder brother; by descent until sold at Sotheby's 2009; Philip Mould.

Back to top