'Imag(in)ing Revolutionary Evolution in Apes and Humans in the 1920s: The Ages of Life Sculptures at the Darwin Museum, Moscow'.

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The Darwin Museum in Moscow was, from its foundation in 1907, committed to using artworks to support stories of evolution. Nationalized in 1917 as an adjunct of Moscow State University, the museum remained under the direction of its founder, Professor Aleksandr Kots, a zoologist, ornithological expert and amateur taxidermist. He directed and supervised the creation of paintings and sculptures, principally made by Vasilii Vatagin, an artist and zoologist, to support the version of Darwinism being projected. From the October Revolution to his death in 1964, Kots ensured that the displays at the Museum were always politically correct. This paper explores the potential contextual resonances of certain works by Vatagin and others in the early Revolutionary period. The discussion focuses on an examination of a pair of monumental sculptures by Vatagin entitled Age of Life (1926), depicting the variations of role, behaviour and appearance of, on the one hand Orangutans (the beast), and on the other hand, human women at different stages of their lives (beauty). The paper then goes on to consider how the modes of imaging, both in these sculptures and in other works representing human evolution in this period, connected with contemporary discourses on and visualisations of Darwinian evolutionary theory, both in the Soviet Union and in Western Europe. What emerges, I will argue, is a complex relationship between the images and the dialectic between contemporary Bolshevik anxieties about degeneration within the Soviet population, and utopian dreams of the Revolutionary production of a new, human biologic type – the New Man/Person.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2019
EventMaking the New Man - St Petersburg University, St Petersburg, Russian Federation
Duration: 16 Apr 201918 Apr 2019


ConferenceMaking the New Man
Country/TerritoryRussian Federation
CitySt Petersburg
Internet address


  • ape reseach
  • darwinism
  • Darwin Museum Moscow
  • Ladygina-Kots
  • animal behavioural psychology
  • Soviet art
  • Vasilii Vatagin
  • Natural History museums
  • Evolution
  • Sculpture


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