American painter Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849–1921) was perhaps best known for his paintings of ethereal angels, landscapes, and delicate flowers. But Thayer was also something of a scientist, and he brought his artistic knowledge and sensibilities to the study of animal behavior and concealment. He published his theories in major scientific journals and in a book on animal coloration and camouflage, thus putting himself at the center of a raging debate around Darwin’s theories of evolution.

“Not Theories but Revelations”: The Art and Science of Abbott Handerson Thayer, currently on view at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), is the first study of Thayer to address his artistic practice as part of his broader investigation of animal and human concealment. The exhibition and its catalogue pair the artist’s portraits of idealized women with his paintings of birds and designs for military uniforms in order to show the contrasting sides of a man trying to reconcile the spiritual uncertainties of his age with emerging science. The book’s essay by WCMA curator Kevin M. Murphy covers the biography and artistic practices of this eccentric and controversial artist.



Photography by Jeremy Linden