The Beautiful Drawings by Darwin’s Artist-in-Residence

On the famous HMS Beagle voyage, painter Conrad Martens depicted the sights along the journey

The HMS Beagle landed at Port Desire, in Patagonia, on December 23, 1833, and anchored in front of an old Spanish settlement. Cambridge University Library
Here Conrad Martens depicts Guanaco Island, in Patagonia, named for the wild llama-like animals that would become a regular meal for the crew of the Beagle. "It generally lives in small herds of half a dozen to 30 each," Darwin wrote, "but on the banks of the St. Cruz we saw one herd which must have contained at least 500." Cambridge University Library
On Christmas Day 1833, the sailors played various athletic games, including one known as Sling (or Swing) The Monkey, in which one of the men is tied up by his feet and swung about by his shipmates. Cambridge University Library
The day Darwin climbed Patagonia’s Mount Tarn, Conrad Martens painted it from across the bay. Cambridge University Library
During walks near Port Desire, Darwin discovered shells, suggesting "that within no great number of centuries all this country has been beneath the sea." Cambridge University Library
The desolation “exceeded all description,” Darwin wrote, and the natives were “half civilized, and proportionally demoralized.” Cambridge University Library
Conrad Martens sketched this image of Mount Sarmiento, a 6,800 foot peak in Tierra del Fuego, using a telescope from 49 miles away. Cambridge University Library
Mount Sarmiento, wrote Darwin, "presented a very noble spectacle." He noted how surprised he was that, when the surrounding scenery was in full view, incredibly lofty mountains appeared quite low in elevation. Cambridge University Library

In late 1833, with the HMS Beagle anchored in Montevideo and Charles Darwin hunting fossils ashore, a British landscape painter named Conrad Martens joined the crew. He’s a “stone-pounding artist who exclaims in his sleep ‘think of me standing upon a pinnacle of the Andes,’” Capt. Robert FitzRoy wrote in a letter to Darwin. “I’m sure you will like him.” About halfway into a nearly five-year journey that would help him set the foundation for the theory of evolution, Darwin must have welcomed the new shipmate.

With his 6- by 9-inch sketchbooks, pencils and watercolors, Martens, 32, detailed the dramatic vistas, and occasionally the inhabitants, in ways that words never could. “It’s a remarkable view of the world. There’s a freshness, absolutely. You just feel like you are there,” says Alison Pearn, associate director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, which worked with the Cambridge University Digital Library to put Martens’ images online (as seen here and here.) Darwin would have agreed. Martens left the voyage after just a year, when costs forced FitzRoy to downsize. But the three later met up in Sydney, where Darwin purchased some of Martens’ paintings. One of them still hangs at his former estate, Down House.

A Voyage of Sketches: The Art of Conrad Martens

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