Creation versus evolution

Design for the entrance front of the Natural History Museum
Design for the entrance front of the Natural History Museum, c.1868
Pencil with buff and grey washes
Artist: Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905)
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collections
View of the statue on main entrance of the Natural History Museum
View of the statue on main entrance of the Natural History Museum, 1940
Copyright: Natural History Museum, London


This pencil and wash drawing by Waterhouse shows the entrance front almost as it is today, however with one key exception – the inclusion of human statues and most notably a male statue on the top of the pediment above the main entrance.

At the time of Waterhouse’s drawing the great debate about the origins of man was taking place, creation versus evolution. The biblical idea of creation by God, and the first man being Adam was still adhered to by many and Waterhouse had decided to depict this on the top of the museum with a statue of Adam.

Designs for a statue of Eve

Another earlier design shows a flat parapet with two figures, presumably Adam and Eve. Possibly for aesthetic reasons, to have a central gable, Eve was later omitted from the design.

The fate of the statue of Adam

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, as published in his book 'On the Origin of the Species' (1859) began to find favour in the 1870s, however the statue of Adam remained controversially on top of the museum until the 1940s.

In 1940 the upper part of the nude statue smashed on to the front steps below, probably due to bomb damage (two incendiaries and an oil bomb had hit the roof of the Botany Department in the east wing on 9 September 1940). The photograph shows the statue shortly after this incident, looking out over south London.

The remainder of the statue was then removed and stored somewhere at the back of the museum for the rest of the war. The crates holding the statue later mysteriously disappeared. However, there is a rumour that the most intimate part of Adam's anatomy was used as a paperweight by a member of staff at the museum!






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