Cover design for series of eight lithographs. Paris: Lemercier & cie, 1883
Odilon Redon produced this astonishing lithographic series a year after Darwin’s death. He had been familiar with Darwin’s theories for at least twenty years, possibly through the botanist Armand Clavaud, himself a strong supporter of Darwin whom Redon met before 1861. The title clearly suggests a link to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which was available in French translation from 1862, and some of the plates have very clear links to aspects of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Redon’s extraordinary vision of human origins synthesises various other influences along with Darwin. These include competing evolutionary theories, such as those of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, as well as by his reading of popular scientific journals, his visits to the Muséum d’histoire naturelle in Paris, and even the poetry of Jules Michelet and Victor Hugo. Redon especially admired the biologist Louis Pasteur for his study of microbes in fighting infectious diseases, and though they never met, he sent Pasteur a copy of Les Origines.