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Not quite Darwin's artist: the travel art of Augustus Earle

Journal of Historical Geography
DOI: 10.1016/j.jhg.2013.05.003
  • Exploration
  • Observation
  • Travel Art
  • Mapping


Abstract Charles Darwin and Augustus Earle were close companions for a year both on ship and shore during the Beagle's second expedition to South America under Captain Robert FitzRoy. The discoveries that Darwin, then a young, inexperienced naturalist, made during the voyage were integral to the evolution of his thought, and provided crucial evidence for the theories he formulated in his On the Origin of Species (1859). Earle, a professional artist and experienced and independent global traveller, was presumably chosen as artist for the voyage by FitzRoy because of his reputation, his earlier travels and the resultant works. In a broad sense Earle's travel art has affinities with methods of scientific investigation and modes of thought associated with Darwin's experiences on the Beagle expedition. Both are characterised by close and critical observation of natural phenomena and the people they encountered. Both men's practices went beyond the accumulation of factual information. They were notable for their questionings of previously-held beliefs and the formulation of new views of the world and the relationships of humans within it. This essay explores the parallels and differences between Earle's and Darwin's responses to places and people in Brazil and New Zealand. It considers whether the dynamics of inquiry, as well as the imaginative capacities, that marked the artist and his work could have informed the development of those qualities, so necessary for his later paradigm-shifting scientific work, in the young inexperienced naturalist. While any evidence is largely circumstantial, clearly evident are the transformative effects that exploratory voyaging had on the observations and practices of both men.

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