Well-known portrait of Carl Linnaeus back in Sweden

19 November 2018

Uppsala University Library has recently purchased a well-known portrait of Carl Linnaeus. The small pen and wash drawing was made by Jean Eric Rehn, one of the most famous Swedish artists and architects of the Gustavian era. The portrait is available for study at Uppsala University Library, together with about 80 other portraits of Linnaeus in the library’s collections.

Rehn drew the portrait of Linnaeus around 1750, possibly in Uppsala or when Linnaeus visited Stockholm. The portrait has a mundane character, like so many other of Rehns depictions in the 18th century. It is not an official portrait of Linnaeus. This may be the reason why the drawing did not get any attention at the time. It became well-known later in time, when it was copied in lithographic form in London in 1830. The place of the original was unknown for a long time. The lithograph was copied and spread through the Swedish press in the late 1800s and received the caption “Linnaeus in everyday life”.

At some point in time this original drawing ended up in the possession of an English nobleman and was most likely inherited for several generations. Now, in 2018, the portrait has returned to Sweden and Uppsala. In the picture, Linnaeus wears a wig and sword, so the question is whether one can truly say that he has been portrayed in everyday life. However, it corresponds to Linnaeus’s own description of himself: “Linnaeus was not big, not small, skinny... He cared little about the exterior, but thought that the man should adorn the clothes, not the other way round.”

The portrait will be exhibited in the Carolina Rediviva exhibition hall from June 2019, when the exhibition hall opens after the ongoing renovation. The portrait has been digitised and can be seen and downloaded in Alvin, the platform for digital collections and digitised cultural heritage: Portrait of Carl Linneaus.

For more information about the portrait or other questions about the University Library's image collections or material related to Carl von Linné, contact Åsa Henningsson, asa.henningsson@ub.uu.se, 070-425 08 37.

In the photo: The portrait is shown among Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae and an engraving of the Linnean sexual system by Georg Dionysius Ehret.