Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
HMS Beagle leaving Devonport in 1831
Artistic voice: William Turner, ca. 1840, London
Oil on canvas, 78 x 115.5 cm

Darwin’s journey in the “Beagle” marked the beginning of a significant breakthrough in our ideas relating to how the world and its inhabitants came about. What was previously regarded as God-given and static was increasingly being questioned by naturalists and geologists. Indeed, Darwin dedicated himself primarily to geology and collected evidence of the layers being created in earth formations and the distribution of fossils to confirm the theory of the gradual development and formation of the Earth. His collections of animals and plants ultimately also provided him with evidence of the changing nature of species and their common origins. However, his revolutionary step was the insight that this could be explained by the mechanism of natural selection. This negated the need to explain the development of species, including humans, with a biblical creator. As a result, humans were at once emancipated and recognised as part of nature as a whole.

Professor Diethard Tautz, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Plön, Germany

In 1831–1836 the “Beagle” circumnavigated the world to take cartographical measurements. On this journey, Charles Darwin collected the material that he subsequently developed into the theory of evolution. Following his return, he was accepted into the upper echelons of society and in particular the academic world; including, for example, the “Athenaeum Club” in London, founded by William Turner. Darwin could well have met ship enthusiast Turner there, and could have inspired a painting of historical significance. Turner had visited Devonport himself in his early life and recorded it in his sketchbook. This tallies with his propensity to create pictures based on old sketches. With his often dramatic compositions and intensive colour scheme, Turner was a revolutionary in the world of painting.