Art History and Archaeology
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Chair and Committee
This study of the animal form in French and British art reveals humanity's shifting self-image as new theories of species transmutation replaced hierarchical models of nature in the half-century before the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859. To assert various qualities of difference, distance, similitude, and proximity between species, visual artists represented animals either in humanized guises or in contexts of encounter with humans. Animal imagery was especially malleable during this period when science and pseudo-science both confronted the possibility that species were susceptible to gradual change over time rather than fixed in form since the biblical moment of creation. In this series of chronologically-ordered case studies, I explore how visual artists investigated the increasingly unsettled question of alleged human: and especially white male) superiority over animals. Each chapter analyzes an artistic response to humanity's place in the natural world. In the first chapter, I demonstrate how artists and naturalists jointly sought to maintain animal alterity through image and text in encyclopedic works of illustrated natural history and physiognomy. The second chapter interrogates artists' engagements with the paradox of physical separation and visible animal-human similarity evident in Paris's and London's newly established civic zoos. Explicitly transgressive and more carnal aspects of the human-animal relationship are the focus of the third chapter, in which I argue that depictions of sexual contact between animals and women serve to bestialize women literally and figuratively in an era marked by emergent demands for women's social and political rights. In the fourth chapter, I assert that hybrid human and animal forms in the oeuvre of the French caricaturist J.-J. Grandville generate a leveling effect among species and human social classes as all creatures in his art wear animal masks that reveal their shared bestial natures. Finally, in the fifth chapter I examine efforts to defend a white, masculine, privileged position as it was perpetuated through imagery equating the anthropoid ape with the black African human. In these case studies, I trace an increasing loss of confidence in human dominion as a divinely ordained natural order and a correlative rise of a seemingly disordered world in which humanity's once stable place is now understood to be in flux. I analyze contemporary criticism and the interplay of image and text to demonstrate the flexibility and centrality of the animal form during this historical moment in Europe's twin artistic, intellectual, and scientific capitals of Paris and London. The animal body in French and British art created before the so-called Darwinian Revolution allowed artists to confront fears regarding class, gender, race, religion, and, most profoundly, the possibility of the beast that lurks within every human.
Paulson, Noelle, "Natural Disorder: The Animal Image in French and British Art before Darwin, c. 1790-1859" (2009). All Theses and Dissertations (ETDs). 273.