The origins of the world, the exhibition at Paris Musée d’Orsay

Published by Elodie D. · Photos by My B. · Published on 12 October 2020 at 19h26 · Updated on 13 October 2020 at 13h52
From November 10, 2020 to February 14, 2021, the Musée d’Orsay devotes a compelling exhibition to the origins of the world and the invention of nature in Darwin’s century. This exhibition, at the crossroads of sciences and arts, will return to the historic change in the 19th century.

Here is one of the exhibitions likely to create a buzz in 2020. “Les Origines du Monde, l’invention de la nature au siècle de Darwin” [The Origins of the world, the invention of nature in Darwin’s century] is a compelling exhibition by the Musée d’Orsay and Montreal Fine Arts Museum, displayed from November 10, 2020 to February 14, 2021 at the Musée d’Orsay.

Cocurated with the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, this exhibition focuses on the place of man on Earth from the Renaissance to WWI, by comparing scientific breakthroughs and collective imaginary world for each era.

In the rooms of the Musée d’Orsay, walk over six centuries of the history of arts, (re)discovering the story of man who went from God’s creature to an evolved animal with Darwin’s theories of evolution. If at first, the exhibition seems historic, it’s actually an alarm call as the ecological awareness is now at the heart of the society.

In 10 sections, this exhibition provides us with a true immersion into the world of the 19th century as it is changing after Darwin’s discoveries on the evolution.

An instructive exhibition

The exhibition begins with the image of the world as created by God, omnipresent in the Renaissance works of art. After a beautiful introduction about biblical works, we discover the debuts of an academical curiosity in the 15th century when the animalist masters will precisely depict plants and animals, also carried out scientific researches: Carracci, Anne Vallayer Coster, Leroy de Barde come and present their discoveries to princes and kings in Europe and fill in their cabinets of curiosities.

Then, the exhibition walks us though the Revolution when scientists dream of a Grand Museum, a “universal college” gathering arts, sciences and techniques in the spirit of the Enlightenment: in Paris will arrive the Louvre and the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle and its Grande Galerie de l'Evolution as well as the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in 1793 and 1794. In these beautiful venues, collections of vellums and pieces of herbariums are kept and can be studied by generations of scientists and naturalists!

With the rise of scientist explorations, the number of known species skyrockets and the sorting of “natural system” as created by Linné, Buffon, Jussieu based on the number of species created by God is no longer valid. The studies of fossils and dinosaurs and the discovery of prehistoric men’s bones is intriguing.

Charles Darwin and other scientists such as Charles Bonnet, Lamarck and Haeckel will study these phenomena and question the history. But it’s the release of “On the Origin of Species” (1859) that will change everything.

A contemporary exhibition

For the first time, a man dares to say nature carries out a selection of the most capable people, those who can adapt on several generations to survive in a place. He will go even further in his essay “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872) that is about animal psychology: he says that a monkey can smile (with naturalist illustrations) and dogs have feelings.

The Musée d’Orsay presents works and their echoes in the society: if some artist gladly believe him and are specialized in fresco genre scene of mankind at the Stone Age (Common, Faivre, Jamin), the press will depict Darwin and his rooters (Haeckel, Littré…) with simian features in nice caricatures.

Still today, the origins of the world cause a debate, especially in the United States, even though the debate is supplanted by the ecologist awareness because of the Sixth mass extinction. A focus also expects us on Nature as the creator of beauties inspiring artists. On the menu, major works such as the Water Lilies by Claude Monet and other paintings that will depict our planet as a living body which beauty has to be respected to avoid the end of Man on Earth.

This is a beautiful exhibition between science and art to discover, we are looking forward!

Practical information

Dates and Opening Time
From 10 November 2020 to 14 February 2021



    62 rue de Lille
    75007 Paris 7

    Official website

    More informations
    Horaires : 9h30-18h, fermé le lundi

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