Joseph Mallord William Turner (c. 1775–1851), an English painter usually known for bright, colorful and picturesque landscapes, decided on a darker theme for this painting, known as the Evening of the Deluge. It was one of several scenes he painted based on the Biblical story of the Great Flood, serving as one entry in a series of paintings that captured moments before, during, and after the apocalyptic flood occurred. In this particular painting, Evening of the Deluge, the light is starting to be blotted out by the clouds, and ghostly outlines of animals and people can be seen through the downpouring rain and the rising waters. The inspiration for Turner’s series on the Deluge can be found in the Book of Genesis, which contains the famous story of Noah and the Ark:
“For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark” (Genesis 7: 17-23, NIV translation).
Such is the scene that was re-created in the painting above. Other artworks in Joseph Mallord William Turner’s series on the flood included The Deluge and Morning After the Deluge. Curiously, the paintings were created, or at least exhibited decades apart. The Deluge, the only one of the series to feature clear and up-close human figures, was unveiled around 1805, whereas the more abstract and obscure Evening and Morning paintings were exhibited in 1843.
Written by C. Keith Hansley