This month Glenn Benson, our Honorary Curator of Artefacts, looks at another treasure that hides in plain sight in the Linnean Society’s rooms in New Burlington House: the one metre tall statue of Carl Linnaeus
Published on 31st October 2023
On the stairs outside the library of the Linnean Society stands a one-metre tall statue of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Carl von Linné after his ennoblement. The statue was given to the Society in 1889 by Sir Frank Crisp FLS (1843-1919) and is one of only three bronzed zinc cast from the sculptor’s original model for the monumental statue of Linnaeus that stands in the Humelgarden in Stockholm.
Big brothers in Stockholm and Chicago are watching!
There are two large-scale versions of the same standing figure of Linnaeus: one in Stockholm (unveiled in 1885) the other in Chicago (unveiled in 1891).
The statue to Linnaeus in Stockholm was commissioned by the Swedish Academy of Sciences from the Swedish sculptor Johannes Frithiof Kjellberg (1836-85), assisted by Carl Johan Dyfverman (1844-1892). Unveiled on 13th
May 1885 the 4.3 tall bronze figure of Linnaeus stands atop a 4.8m stone plinth, so it is truly monumental in scale at over 9m tall. At the corners of the plinth sit four larger than life female allegorical figures symbolizing Linnaeus’ areas of interest: botany, zoology, medicine, and mineralogy.
Tucked under Linnaeus’ left arm, with the spine concealed, is a large book, assumed to be Linnaeus’ great work: Systema Naturae. The Linnean Society holds Linnaeus’ own copy of the 10th edition, published in 1758, and it can be viewed via our digitised collections, here.
In the left hand the figure holds a small bunch of flowers. This is often said to be a bunch of the ‘Twin Flower’, Linnaea borealis, the plant that bears Linnaeus’ name. However, if the Society’s version of the statue is anything to go by, this may not be stricty true. The botanists amongst you might be able to identify the flowers forming the generic looking posy, if you can, please let us know so we can record them.
“Linnaea is a plant of Lapland, lowly, insignificant, disregarded, flowering but for a brief space — named after Linnaeus who resembles it.”
The National Museum of Sweden holds several of Kjellberg’s design ideas for the monument, as well as maquettes including this small-scale version of the final design for the figure in terracotta.
Kjellberg is said to have used the 1775 portrait of Linnaeus by Swedish artist Alexander Roslin (1718-93) as the basis of the likeness. The Society holds a copy of Roslin’s portrait of Linnaeus in his red "wedding suit" by Lorenz Pasch (1733-1805) which can be found on the Library catalogue here.
Meanwhile on the other side of “The Pond”
A second, full-size version of the Linnaeus monument was unveiled on 23 May 1891 in the entrance to Lincoln Park in Chicago, paid for by Chicago’s large Swedish community. It is the sole work of Kjellberg’s assistant, Carl Johan Dyfverman. In 1976 the statue was relocated to the grounds of the University of Chicago and during the work to move it a time capsule was found in the structure. That capsule contained a commemorative certificate marking the unveiling of the statue. The Society holds two facsimiles of the certificate that was found: one given in 1986 by botanist William Stearn FLS (1911-2001), the other donated by Selma Jacobson (1906-2000), a Swedish American who campaigned to promote US-Swedish relations and to record the history of Swedes in America.
Big brothers’ little brother
The Linnean Society’s small-scale version of the figure of Linnaeus was cast in 1886 by Otto Meyer & Komp, the Stockholm-based foundry established in 1875 by Otto Johan Fredrik Meyer (1852-1933), the foundry that cast both the Stockholm and Chicago figures.
Two other copies of the sculpture were made: one is the National Museum of Sweden, the other in the Swedish Royal Collection.
The Proceedings of the Linnean Society for 1875-1890 record the donation of the statue by Frank Crisp and reproduce a certificate of authenticity, or receipt, for its purchase signed by the Swedish naturalist Otto Martin Torell (1828–1900)
Crisp was a great supporter of the Linnean Society, purchasing many items of significance for it. Among the books, scientific instruments, and furniture he purchased for the Society, he is perhaps best remembered for paying for the installation of newfangled electric lighting (it’ll never catch on!) in the Society’s rooms at New Burlington House in 1893. He was a keen horticulturalist, and this was recognised when he was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour in 1919.
The next time you come the Society’s Library — be it to research our collections, for personal study, or to have a drink or two after one of the Society’s many on-site events — pause a moment and say hello to the little Linné on the landing outside, a small statue to a giant of the scientific world.
Glenn Benson FLS
Honorary Curator of Artefacts
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. "Crisp, Sir Frank, first baronet (1843–1919)". Anita McConnell.
Proceedings of The Linnean Society 1875-1890, via Biodiversity Heritage Library
Wisehn, Eva. Images of Linnaeus: Medals, Coins and Banknotes. Stockholm: Royal Coin Cabinet and The Linnean Society, 2011.