John Lubbock (1834-1913) was a banker, politician, geologist, zoologist, naturalist, biologist and archaeologist. Lubbock collected archaeological and ethnographic objects from all over the world. In 1869 he commissioned Griset to create a series of paintings showing what he thought prehistoric life was like.
John Lubbock commissioned this painting of a Pacific Atoll in 1871. It seems a bit out of place in a collection of paintings about prehistoric life. It has been suggested that Lubbock may have commissioned it for his good friend and neighbour Charles Darwin.
In 1831, Darwin set off on a five year expedition to chart the coasts of South America on a ship called the Beagle. The ship returned via Tahiti and Australia, having circumnavigated the Earth. In 1836 Darwin saw his first coral atoll at the Cocos or Keeling Islands, in the North East Indian Ocean. In 1842, the pioneer of evolutionary theory wrote a book about about coral reefs and their origins, called ‘The structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs and their origins’.
Do you think the ship in the background of this painting could be the Beagle?
Ernest Griset was born in 1843 in France and came to England as a child. He was an animal illustrator and was best known for his drawings of animals from London Zoo. The Times reported his death on July 9th 1877, describing him as:
‘An admirable and apparently inexhaustable draughtsman who possessed much satirical power and produced countless drawings in grotesque of animals and human savages, which wise collectors obtained for trivial sums at an untidy little shop near Leicester Square.’
On the 16th July, it was subsequently reported, however, that he was not dead or ‘even ailing’. The quality of his work declined as he got older and busier. When he finally died in 1907, he was almost forgotten and most likely a pauper.
John Lubbock and Ernest Griset
John Lubbock (1834 – 1913) was a keen archaeologist who invented many of the archaeological terms that are still in use today: Paeleolithic (old stone age) and Neolithic (new stone age). He is most famous for writing ‘Prehistoric Times’, in which he charts how Western man rose to ‘civilised supremacy’.
In 1869 he commissioned Griset to create a series of paintings showing what he thought prehistoric life was like. They were never actually reproduced in any of his books. They were probably used to decorate his home,along with all the other spears, clubs and any other artefacts that were hung on his walls, over fireplaces, doorways and windows.