Dr. Southwood Smith put Bentham’s head in an air pump suspended over sulphuric acid to preserve it. This dehydrated the head, but failed to preserve any expression.
For Smith, “this would not do for exhibition”. Instead, Smith commissioned Jacques Talrich, a French artist who specialised in medical models, to produce a wax head. This is now displayed with the auto-icon. Bentham’s friend, Henry Brougham, remarked that the head’s likeness was “so perfect that it seems as if alive.”
Generations of UCL students remember that Bentham’s preserved head had been on display between the legs of the auto-icon. We are unsure exactly when it was removed, and this exhibition is the first time the head has been publicly displayed since then. Given Bentham’s wish for it to be part of the auto-icon, we can say with some confidence that he would have approved.