Portrait recreations are fun on their own, but the 10 recreations we’re about to share with you are especially fascinating since the models in these recreations are none other than the great-grandchildren of the famous figures depicted in the original paintings. This incredible concept was conceived and executed by British photographer Drew Gardner, whose intention was to showcase the complicated story of lineage and ancestry by dressing up live descendants of famous people and recreating iconic portraits of these people as accurately as possible. The result is this series of compelling side by side portraits titled “The Descendants”.
The project was conceived in 1995 and since then Gardner has photographed the descendants of Napoleon, Frederick Douglass, Charles Dickens, and many others you see here. With this project, the author doesn’t aim to highlight the resemblance between the two people. As he stated in an interview, “I’m encouraging a debate. I want to provoke a conversation that makes people curious about history.”
2. Napoleon in his study, a portrait by Jacques-Louis David, 1812, (right) and Hugo de Salis, Napoleon's 4th great-grandson (left)
A massive amount of research and preparation lies behind each of these pictures. When searching for the next subject, the photographer first needs to find a contemporary descendant within the 150-year range of the historical figure. What’s more, the author’s aim is to only include relatives of people with iconic ancestors, not mere celebrities.
4. Berthe Morisot by Edouard Manet, 1872 (right) and Lucie Rouart, her great-granddaughter (left)
Having selected the best depiction from an often very limited database of paintings and photos, Gardner goes on to recreate the setting and costume of the original portrait, preferably using vintage pieces. This can be difficult, or even impossible, at times, as in the case of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s portrait with the massive chains in the background. In cases like these, the photographer uses models or digital manipulation to offer a lifelike reproduction of the original image.
8. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a portrait by Robert Howlett, 1857 (right), and Isambard Thomas, his 3rd great-grandson (left)
Although the pandemic has halted the project, for now, Gardner plans on continuing the series with more exciting recreations. Certainly, this project is more than a neat recreation of famous pictures, it’s a way to start a meaningful and often difficult conversation on history, its famous faces, and their legacies.
10. Emeline Pankhurst (right) and Helen Pankhurst, the women's rights activist's great-granddaughter (left)