For centuries, animals in European art illustrated familiar narratives, such as hunting scenes, stories from classical mythology, or biblical passages. Artists often relied on specimens in natural history collections or animals in royal zoos as models.
During the Age of Discovery (c. 1500-1900), Europeans explored and colonized parts of the globe, returning home with massive collections of specimens. Scientists classified and catalogued these collections, in keeping with Enlightenment-era thinking of the time. The Enlightenment upheld reason and rationality as the primary way of understanding the world. In art, anatomic accuracy illustrating specific characteristics of different species was highly valued.
Romanticism arose as a reaction to the Enlightenment. Romanticism valued emotion over rationality, the heart over the head. Romantic artists believed nature was the source of profound feelings, ranging from terror to ecstasy. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous line, Nature, red in tooth and claw and the sinuous sculptures of Antoine-Louis Barye epitomized this romantic way of envisioning nature.
In midst of these competing societal forces came Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution through natural selection combined elements of both Enlightenment and Romantic thought. While Darwin stressed the importance of scientifically observing animals, he also showed that observing them in their natural habitat was critically important. Adding a Romantic element, he saw life as a constant battle, a struggle for existence. For artists, this made fieldwork important, but also encouraged a dramatic worldview embracing the notion of the survival of the fittest.
Transformations: Wildlife in Inuit Art and CultureThrough May 5, 2024
Through cultural stories, Transformations seeks to explore Inuit history, values, and beliefs. The exhibit is comprised of works from the permanent collection and items on loan from private collections. The hope, as it is with all exhibits, is that visitors take away a deeper appreciation of the artwork and perhaps are introduced to something that they did not know before. Most importantly, we want to bring attention to the fact that today Inuit artists are producing powerful artworks that reference histories and that, at the same time, confront contemporary issues such as conservation and environmental concerns.See the Exhibit
Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography AwardsThrough April 21, 2024
Bringing Africa to the World, and the World to Africa. What separates the Mkapa Photo Awards from other photo competitions is their core commitment to conservation through categories that are specific to topics of concern in modern Africa.See the Exhibit