Charles Darwin bicentenary – the second wave

A vast wave of publicity about Charles Darwin peaked in February, around the 200th anniversary of his birth, with exhibitions, radio and television programmes, and books galore. Then there was a lull but now a second wave of Darwiniana is on its way, ahead of November’s 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species.

The next centre of attention will be Cambridge, which is holding Darwin 2009, a huge international festival, from July 5 to 10. Around the central programme of lectures, talks, debates and culture, organised by the university, many other Cambridge venues are holding their own events.

Some are small-scale, such as Helen Birmingham’s show of Darwin-inspired mixed-media works, at Broughton House Gallery from June 27 to July 18. But the grand centrepiece of Darwinian art is an exhibition called Endless Forms, opening at the Fitzwilliam Museum today.

Endless Forms is the most ambitious exhibition ever put on by the Fitzwilliam, according to director Timothy Potts – and it is certainly the most comprehensive assessment of Darwin’s impact on the visual arts that anyone has ever attempted. My colleague Robin Blake will be reviewing it in Saturday’s FT.

I dropped in on the press opening of Endless Forms while visiting Cambridge last week but did not have time for a proper view. I saw enough fascinating material, however, to make me determined to return for a proper look before the exhibition closes on October 4.

John Collier's 1883 Portrait of Darwin (National Portrait Gallery)

John Collier's 1883 portrait of Darwin (National Portrait Gallery, London)

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