Re-attribution of works throws light on new Darwin artist

Art Press Release from Australia. Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Thursday 27 August 2009.

Conrad Martens. image

Three works on display at the Reframing Darwin exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne, have been re-attributed to a Chilean artist not previously associated with Charles Darwin.

The paintings, previously attributed to Conrad Martens, were commissioned by Robert FitzRoy RN, Captain of HMS Beagle, while the Beagle expedition was in Valparaiso in 1835.

The works have now been attributed to a British-born Chilean artist, Carlos Chatworthy Taylor Wood (1792-1856). Wood worked in Chile between 1820-1852 and in Valparaiso between 1833-7.

The attribution of these watercolours to Wood is important for Darwin Scholars because it adds a new name to the list of artists associated with the Beagle Expedition. Wood now joins Conrad Martens and Augustus Earle, the only other academically trained artists associated with Charles Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle.

It is also significant for the nation of Chile, as Wood became a Chilean national, marrying a Chilean, becoming a Roman Catholic and as far as is known, is the only Chilean based artist to have produced art work for the Beagle expedition.

The re-attribution was announced at the exhibition opening this week by art historian Jeanette Hoorn, Professor of Visual Cultures in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.

It followed extensive research into the three works by Professor Hoorn, with advice from Martens expert Ms Elizabeth Ellis; Mr Richard Neville, Mitchell Library and Mr Nick Lambourn, Christies London.

The works are held by the National Library of Australia.

Professor Hoorn, who curated the Reframing Darwin exhibition, said the re-attribution gives us a new insight into the visual representation of the Beagle voyage.

“We now know we are seeing part of the terrain visited by HMS Beagle through different eyes, those of a Chilean resident, not previously associated with the expedition”, Professor Hoorn said.

Reframing Darwin is a major exhibition exploring the lasting legacy of Charles Darwin on art, science and life in Australia. The exhibition reviews and challenges the ramifications of the voyage of HMS Beagle (1831-6) and is the first to show the depth of his impact and that of evolutionary science on Australian art. On exhibition are more than 120 rare, original and unique works in various media from more than 25 institutions and private collectors around Australia covering the last 150 years.

The accompanying book of essays, Reframing Darwin: evolution and art in Australia published by MUP and is available for sale during the exhibition, which runs until 1 November 2009.

Reframing Darwin: evolution and art in Australia on Artabase