1917: Art Revolution and Darwinism
Abstract 1917 was undoubtedly a significant year regarding the relationships between art and bio-science in both Britain and Russia. It was marked not only by the publication of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s On Growth and Form, but also by the transformation of the Moscow ‘Museum of Evolutionary History’ into the ‘State Darwin Museum’, a change necessitated by the successful Bolshevik Revolution, October 1917. The museum was founded in 1907 at the Women’s Higher Courses Institute of Moscow University, by the ornithologist and amateur taxidermist, Professor Aleksandr Kots. It was initially based on his own collection of specimens, augmented by taxidermy works by Fedor Fedulov and art works by the otherwise avant-garde painter/sculptor Vasilii Vatagin. These objects were all used as teaching aids before and after the Revolution, much as Wentworth had done with his own collection. Another marginal connection with Wentworth was Kots’ initial inclination towards a quasi-Lamarckian approach to evolution, something that was shared with contemporary Russian/Soviet Darwinists. Kot’s vision for the museum’s growth, expressed in 1914, was that art – particularly painting and sculpture [including taxidermy], should provide exciting visual, and largely text-free contexts for visitor’s experience of the collection and its explication. The post-Revolutionary re-designation of the museum as state property, potentially offered opportunities to expand, not only spatially, but in terms of the use of art, as defined above. This paper sets out to explore and celebrate the impact of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution on the artistic aspirations of the nascent Soviet State Darwin Museum in the 1920s.