The Origins of the World. The Invention of Nature in the 19th Century.
In the second half of the century, Darwin and his followers, like Haeckel in Germany, examined the origins of man, his place in Nature, his links with animals and his own animal nature, in a world that was understood from then on as an ecosystem. This upheaval in the sciences, and the public debates throughout the century, had a profound influence on artists. The iconography of the monkey reflected the discomfort when faced with our simian ancestors, and the phantasmatic quest for the “missing link.”
The Symbolist aesthetic of metamorphosis was populated with monsters and hybrids, centaurs, minotaurs, sirens and other chimera. With Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur, Nature became the artist. The infinitely small world, botany and the ocean depths inspired the arts, the decorative arts in particular. Art Nouveau and Symbolism displayed a fascination for the origins of life, ontogeny and phylogeny: single-cell forms, marine animals and embryonic creatures crept into undefined realms, into the secrets of maternity.
For the first time, the Musée d’Orsay is devoting an exhibition to the point where sciences and arts intersect, in partnership with the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, which will cover the themes in question and compare the principal milestones in scientific discoveries with their parallels in the imagination.