Charles Darwin’s monumental The Origin of Species, published in 1859, forever changed the landscape of natural science. The scientific world of the time had already established the principle of the “intelligent design” of a Creator; the art world had spent centuries devoting itself to the celebration of such a Designer’s creation. But the language of the book, and its implications, were stunning, and the ripples Darwin made when he rocked the boat spread outward: if he could question the Designer, what effect might there be on the art world, and on mortal designers’ renderings of Creation.
Published in partnership with the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art to accompany its exhibit, this catalog of essays and more than fifty color exhibition plates invokes these two senses of “intelligent design”—one from the debates between science and theology and the other from the world of art, particularly architecture and the decorative arts. The extensive exhibition includes furniture, metalware, glassware, textiles, and designs on loan from public and private collections in the United States and England. Among the artwork included are items from William Morris, C. R. Ashbee, Christopher Dresser, C. F. A. Voysey, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis Sullivan. Through these pieces and the accompanying examinations, the book explores how popular conceptions of the theory of evolution were used or rejected by British and American artists in the years that followed Darwin’s publication.