Endless Form: Chas. Darwin and the Visual Arts

If I could travel back in time, my first stop might be on board the HMS Beagle circa 1834, followed by a hop over to Cambridge, England in early 2009 to catch the Darwin Endless Forms exhibit at The Fitzwilliam Museum before it closed.

Fortunately, books can have the power to transport our minds, if not our bodies, to such magical places. This is certainly the case with the exhibit’s companion volume Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts. The essays match the quality of the illustrations, making this book much more than your typical museum trophy / coffee table decoration.

King of Beasts meets Endless Form, Pennsylvania 2014

This book provides rich visual context for thinking about Darwin as an individual, and the influences he experienced from painting, drawing, natural histories, geology and culture. Chapter four entitled ‘Art and the Entangled Bank: Colour and Beauty of of the War of Nature’ is one of my favorites. It opens with a quote from Darwins Origin of Species, a vision of of a lush, interconnected nature “with birds singing on the bushes … worms crawling through the damp earth.” Among the many gorgeous examples that illustrate this theme, I was struck by Joseph Mallord William Turner‘s painting of The Flood as a naturalistic landscape (especially since seeing Mr. Turner), and by a diorama (progenitor of the theoretical diorama?) from Biologiska museet in Stockholm.

Winged Rabbit, Biologiska museet, Stockholm Sweden 2007

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