Published to coincide with an exhibition of the same title, Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts, is the first publication to examine Darwin’s influence on the world of visual art—from taxonomical drawing and landscape painting, to 19th-century aesthetic theories and impressionism. Diana Donald, former professor of art history and department head at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Jane Munro, curator of paintings, drawings, and prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum, edited the catalogue and also organized the exhibition, which was on view earlier this year at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, and will soon travel to the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, UK (June 6 – October 4). The handsome catalogue—which greatly expands upon the exhibition—includes twelve essays from the editors and leading scholars of art, science, and culture. One essay provides an intriguing overview of the history and restoration of Down House in Kent, the home where Darwin lived from 1842 until his death in 1898, and which opened to the public in 1998, and offers a very personal glimpse into the naturalist’s aesthetic environment.
150 years after the publication of Origin of Species, Endless Forms offers a rich and beautiful evaluation of Darwin’s links to artistic tradition, and, most especially, the vision of Victorian culture, along with its impact on present ways of seeing. Principal among the book’s themes is the power of observation—a skill that Darwin honed despite his artistic failings—and a sentiment that all art enthusiasts can appreciate.
Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts is published by Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009, hardcover, 344 pp., $75.00. It is available for purchase at yalepress.yale.edu or www.fitzwilliammuseumshop.co.uk. A special website for the exhibition and catalogue can be found at www.darwinendlessforms.org.