Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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Copy after a Picture of an Inundation


The known title is based on Whistler's description, as follows:

  • 'an Inundation' (1900, Whistler). 1
  • 'Copy after a Picture of an Inundation' (1980, YMSM). 2

'Copy after a Picture of an Inundation' is the preferred title, since it is not known exactly what painting was copied by Whistler.


Whistler's description was simply 'an Inundation'. 3


The Pennells suggested – but without giving any proof – that this was 'The Deluge or The Wreck.' 4 Compositions inspired by the Biblical story include the darkly dramatic water-scape, L'Hiver ou Le Déluge (Musée du Louvre, Inv. 7306) by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), and the melodramatic figure composition, Scène du déluge (Musée du Louvre, Inv. 4934) by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767-1824), which was exhibited in the Salons of 1806 and 1814, and acquired by the museum in 1818.

The most famous 'wreck' is The Wreck of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824), exhibited at the Salon of 1819 and bought for the Louvre in 1824 (Inv. 4884). 5 However, this is very obviously a wreck at sea rather than a flood.

Paul Huet, L'Inondation à St Cloud, Musée du Louvre
Paul Huet, L'Inondation à St Cloud, Musée du Louvre

It is much more likely, given the phrasing of Whistler's description of his copy as an 'inundation' that it was L'inondation à St Cloud by Paul Huet (1803-1869). Whistler's copy may have shown all or a detail from Huet's painting of a flooded landscape, with a horse and cart on the right, and men launching a small rowing boat, in the foreground, and tall trees in full leaf behind, engulfed in water under a stormy sky. It was exhibited at the Exposition universelle in 1855, where Whistler could have seen it, and entered the collection of the Musée du Luxembourg two years later, in 1857. 6

Charles Gleyre, Le deluge, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne
Charles Gleyre, Le deluge, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne

Other possible sources are Le déluge (1856) by Whistler's master Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre (1806-1874) (Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts), which could have been known by Whistler but was not actually in the Louvre, and – though less likely – River flood (ca 1845-55, Gulbenkian, Lisbon) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875). 7


1: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

2: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 16).

3: Quoted in Pennell 1921, op. cit., p. 171.

4: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 73.

5: Chenique et al. 1991 [more]; Musée du Louvre website at

6: See O’ Reilly 2013 [more], at pp. 126-27, 134. The painting was later also shown at the 1862 International Exhibition in London.

7: See Clarke 2010 [more], p. 266.

Last updated: 21st November 2019 by Margaret