Evolution in Art; BOOKS Darwin's Theories Had a Big Impact on the Arts as Well as on Science as Richard Edmonds Discovers Endless Forms, Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts Edited by Diana Donald and Jane Munro (Yale: Pounds 40)
Byline: Richard Edmonds
It is well known that during the 19th century, Charles Darwin (whose 200th anniversary falls this year) had a profound influence on the fields of biology and natural history, endowing us all with a biological history which included monkeys and great apes.
But Darwin's researches also had a considerable impact on the visual arts in both Europe and America, even influencing Hollywood. You only have to think of King Kong, eating his heart out for the girl, or Tarzan shedding tears at the death of his ape mother to get the picture.
If there was a similarity in the facial expressions of Tarzan and his fellow apes, cinematography was happy to develop it and it was endorsed by Darwinian theory.
The slow processes of evolution by Darwin's sense of "natural selection", the dynamic interplay of life forms and the struggle for survival among the vertebrates all stimulated the imagination of the artists of Darwin's era.
In an inspired way Donald, Munro and their accompanying essayists have set work by Monet, Cezanne, Odilon Redon and others in a new concept which can only inspire a new generation of creative artists whose ideas may well take them beyond dirty bed furniture.
Darwin wrote convincingly of the interplay of all living things in a similar way to the French Romantic poet Charles Baudelaire, who saw correspondences in nature between trees, flowers, landscapes and obviously human beings.
For Baudelaire, the scent of carnations at the end of summer quickened thoughts of low horns sounding in distant forests, while for Darwin significance lay in the inspiration he brought to others, being a complete non-starter himself when it came to replicating nature through watercolours or drawings.
But Darwin's response to accurate biological drawing was instantaneous. His scientific mentor at Cambridge, John Henslow, prepared annotated original watercolour drawings of plants and flowers in order to concentrate on the shapes and abnormalities of plant structures.
These drawings probably gave Darwin the impetus which set him on the path towards evolutionary natural selection. …