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Nov. 19 Art Minute: William Hollbrook Beard, The Discovery of Adam

Art Minute, Art of the Week, toledo museum of art
William Holbrook Beard (American, 1824-1900) The Discovery of Adam. Oil on canvas, 1891. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 2004.82

A partially legible inscription on the shell of the strange tortoiselike creature reads 2000 000[0?] / B C / Adam, providing the clue to the meaning of this painting. Standing on a beach, seven well-dressed primates examine and discuss the significance of this animal. The “punchline” is that these civilized apes of long ago (note the prehistoric reptiles in the background) can no more believe that they descended from such an “Adam” than many at the time of this painting could accept that the family of human beings evolved from an ape-like ancestor.

Created 20 years after the publication in 1871 of Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man, Beard's composition comically presents the anti-Darwinian position.

This work is currently on view in the exhibition Frans Hals Portraits: A Family Reunion located in Levis Gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art.