Martha Lucy

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20072008 Forum on Origins

Martha Lucy

Mellon Fellow in Renoir Studies, The Barnes Foundation

The Evolutionary Body: Science, Self, and Soma in French Art of the Fin de Siècle

This study explores the relationship between evolutionary theory, modernism, and the representation of the body in late nineteenth-century French art and visual culture. Dr. Lucy reveals how new ideas about human origins and evolution were absorbed into artistic vocabularies of the time, and argues that certain artists, such as Odilon Redon and Edgar Degas, seized upon Darwinism’s destabilizing potential as a critical part of their modernist approaches. These artists produced what she calls an “evolutionary body”—a conception that disrupted long-held paradigms of the body as immutable, God-given, and whole. For its articulation of a fragmented body and self, and its volatile intersection with questions of race and gender, the artistic engagement with evolutionary theory must be seen as an essential part of the modernist project.