Link: Wellcome Trust Tree of Life
Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was the most famous and significant natural scientist of his century. His theories about evolution and the origins of the human race profoundly affected the intellectual, cultural, and social lives of his contemporaries and are still of great consequence for us today.
Darwin’s key works-On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871)-were read by a large section of the public, at a time when the sciences had not yet become the preserve of specialists. A much broader public would have learned about Darwin’s theories at second hand, from reports (admiring or hostile) in the press. Artists, of course, were also aware of these ideas and many responded in their work to their implications in ways that reflected everything from anxiety to exhilaration.
Darwin’s ideas resonated in art of many different kinds, from landscape and animal painting to portrayals of prehistoric man and contemporary society.
The interchange between science and art was a two-way street, and the exhibition explores both directions: the sorts of visual imagery that filled Darwin’s own mind and imagination as he formed his theories, as well as the central Darwinian themes that inspired artists-the vast age of the earth, the fierce ’struggle for existence’ that led to natural selection, and the evolution of man himself from an apelike ancestor. Darwin’s response to the beauties of nature and sense of kinship between humans and other species equally gave rise to some of the most lyrical art of the nineteenth century.