Radical Republicanism, Darwin's Science, and the Evolution of Impressionist Aesthetics
The bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin in 2009 spawned a variety of celebratory events in America and abroad. Among these were organized explorations of the interplay between Darwinist theory and the visual arts, pointing to a comparatively recent but growing interest in the naturalist’s influence on modes of thought as expressed in visual culture of both his own time and the decades that followed. The exhibition Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts that appeared at both the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Yale Center for British Arts in New Haven has been to date the most ambitious and inclusive treatment of Darwin’s considerable effect on the arts. It included examples of Darwin’s own drawings of specimens, landscapes inspired by Darwin’s take on geologic time and the fossil record, and images of struggle and conflict in the natural world inspired by the notion of “survival of the fittest.” It also looked at the representation of human evolution, beauty and sexual selection, and ended with an exploration of new ways of interpreting late nineteenth-century impressionist painters like Degas and Monet as artists influenced by the new science. In the book accompanying the exhibit, Richard Kendall’s article, “Monet and the Monkeys: the Impressionist Encounter with Darwinism,” which appeared in the exhibit’s published catalog, acknowledged that connections between the Impressionists and Darwinian theory had until that time never been explored by art ← 1 | 2 → historians, even though there was evidence that the painters were familiar...
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