The known title is based on Whistler's description, as follows:
'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.
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
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
3: Quoted in Pennell 1921, op. cit., p. 171.
Last updated: 21st November 2019 by Margaret