The Cry of Nature reveals how humans engaged in the struggle for animal emancipation and examines for the first time the role of visual art in the growth of animal rights. Artists from Hogarth to Soutine, and Gericault to Picasso, represented animals' suffering and death, as well as their pleasure and individuality. Embracing the lessons of Montaigne, Rousseau, Blake, Darwin, Freud and many others, they proposed that humans and animals have a shared evolutionary heritage of sentience, intelligence and empathy, and deserve equal access to the domain of moral rights.
From the mid-eighteenth century a new and more compassionate understanding of animals began to challenge prevailing views. Witnessing the pain and hearing the outcry of the animals massed together in the great cities of Europe, sympathetic writers and artists argued that animals were neither slaves nor automata, and possessed the capacity to feel and even think. Refuting the biblical dispensation of humans' dominion over animals, they contended that animals possessed inalienable rights.
Thus was born a global movement that fundamentally changed how we understand our relationship to the natural world. Animal rights has become one of the preeminent liberation movements of our time. Illuminating and provocative, The Cry of Nature documents and explores the making of animal rights over the course of 300 years. Engaging the fields of biology, ethnology, anthropology, economics, philosophy and art history, it is both a survey and a closely argued examination of a deeply important but misunderstood epoch in the long history of human and animal relationships.
Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. His books include The Abu Ghraib Effect (Reaktion Books, 2007).