19 October 2007

An open letter to Simon Gurr: more hair please

Dear Simon Gurr,

I am very much looking forward to reading your upcoming book "Darwin: A Graphic Biography" in which your illustrations will accompany text by Eugene Byrne. According to the Darwin200 website, the biography will focus on Darwin's all-important voyage on HMS Beagle. I'm especially pleased to learn that 200,000 copies will be distributed free of charge. Sign me up please!

The same website says your book "will convey the essence of Darwin's life and legacy in an accessible style" ...to which we Beagle Projecteers are quick to reply that the same can be said for a sailing replica of the ship itself. But the more accessible Darwins the merrier!

Now, to the crux of my letter: your proposed book cover, shown here, depicts Darwin as a much older man than he really was during the Voyage. When Darwin met his first marine iguana on the Galapagos Islands in 1835 he was only 26 years old. He would have had a much more substantial thatch of hair at that age not to mention fewer wrinkles. Even in this painting made when he was 31, his noggin was not quite so cue ball-esque as depicted in your cartoon. Your Darwin looks more like this photo taken at age 45.

As I've just written in a recent post, it is vital that we communicate the humanity of Darwin in 2009 (especially his errant youth), not the all-too-common caricature of Darwin, as tristero puts it, as a "stuff shirted Nigel Bruce pip-pipping his way across the Empire" ...nor the even commoner caricature of Darwin as a bearded old man.

So, Simon Gurr, while I'm very pleased to see that in your cartoon you've jettisoned the beard, it appears that you still need to lose the old.

Yours sincerely,
Karen 'nunatak' James


Anthony said...

Well put - I hope the guy changes his cover design!
There are already FAR TOO MANY anachronistic depictions of Darwin in the Galapagos which are clearly based on the 1854 portrait photo.
There are lots of statues of Darwin around the world, but all of them depict him as he was in later life. I have not been able to find a single one that shows him in his energetic, adventurous, twenties when he was sailing around the world and first formulating his ideas. Why?!
But that's all going to change with the bronze that I will be sculpting for Christ's College... :)

nunatak said...

Thanks, Anthony. I can't wait to see your bronze.