The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 016
Copy after a Picture of an Inundation

Copy after a Picture of an Inundation

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1857/1858
Collection: Whereabouts Unknown
Accession Number: none
Medium: oil
Support: unknown
Size: unknown
Signature: unknown
Inscription: unknown
Frame: unknown

Date

Copy after a Picture of an Inundation dates from 1857 or 1858. 1

On 17 June 1856, Whistler, sponsored by Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre (1806-1874), obtained permission to enter the Musées Impériaux, Paris, 'pour les jours d'étude' (on study days). 2

Years later, on 6 August 1900, Whistler told the Pennells that when he was first studying in Paris he got a commission from Captain Williams of Stonington, Conn. 'to copy as many pictures as I chose for twenty-five dollars a piece, and I copied … [a picture of] an inundation.' 3 The Pennells suggest that this was 'no doubt The Deluge or The Wreck.' 4

Two of Whistler's copies date from 1857 (Copy after Schnetz's 'Les Adieux du consul Boëtus à sa famille' y013 and Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' y015). Others may date from 1858; however, there is no record in the Archives du Louvre of Whistler having requested permission to copy a painting of an 'Inundation.'

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

It is possible that the 'Inundation' was an oil, L'inondation à St Cloud, 203 × 300 cm, painted by the Romantic landscape painter Paul Huet (1803-1869). It was first exhibited in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it is possible that Whistler first saw it. It was acquired by the Musée du Luxembourg in 1857 (R.F.96), and admired by Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). 5 It could have been copied by Whistler in the Musée du Luxembourg in late 1857 or early 1858.

Several copies done for Charles Phelps Williams (1804-1879) were painted during that period, and were back in Stonington by March 1858. 6

Images

Copy after a Picture of an Inundation, Whereabouts unknown
Copy after a Picture of an Inundation, Whereabouts unknown

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

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

Subject

Titles

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.

Description

Whistler's description was simply 'an Inundation'. 9

Comments

The Pennells suggested – but without giving any proof – that this was 'The Deluge or The Wreck.' 10 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). 11 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. 12

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). 13

Technique

Technique

Nothing is known about the technique, although, given the similarities between Whistler's surviving copies, it was probably a carefully painted oil painting on canvas. Whistler commented, 'I have no doubt I made something very interesting out of them. There were very wonderful things even then, the beginning of harmonies and purple schemes. I suppose it must have been intuitive.' 14

Conservation History

Unknown.

Frame

Unknown.

History

Provenance

In 1900 Whistler thought that his copies were probably still at Stonington, but there is no further record of them. Whistler's account of his commission from C. P. Williams is as follows:

'Then in Paris, when I was first studying, Captain Williams from Stonington; Stonington Bill they called him, got me to paint his portrait, and then gave me a commission to copy as many pictures as I chose for twenty-five dollars a piece, and I copied … an inundation. I have no doubt I made something very interesting out of them. There were very wonderful things even then, the beginning of harmonies and purple schemes. I suppose it must have been intuitive. … Probably all these are still at Stonington and are shown as wonderful things by Whistler!' 15

Exhibitions

There is no record of any exhibition of this painting.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

On Huet:

Websites

On Huet:

On Gleyre:

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

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

2: Card No. 3338, Comte Alfred Émilien O'Hara van Nieuwerkerke (1811-1892) to Whistler, GUW #04523.

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

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

5: See O’ Reilly 2013 [more], at p. 134.

6: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 29 January 1857, 25 March 1858, GUW #06480, #06495.

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

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

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

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

11: Chenique et al. 1991 [more]; Musée du Louvre website at louvre.fr.

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

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

14: Quoted by Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

15: Quoted by Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.