The idea of a deluge has always fascinated people. Leonadro da Vinci wanted to paint it, and even wrote a story of the planned painting. A currently running exhibition of British history paintings at Tate Britain dedicates a whole room to the deluge theme. Why?
Water is a source of life. Normally. During a flood, its level rises. At first, it can even be entertaining. Then, it becomes disturbing. And lastly, it grows into something deadly.
I will share a few photos from today’s flood in Sochi, the winter Olympics city, and then a gallery of my favourite flood paintings. With artists primarily interested in the deadly part of a deluge story (the last survivors about to be killed by the next wave), a modern deluge seems to lack adequate artistic response.
So, the modern flood in Sochi:
And now, artistic response.
The best known traditional deluge is perhaps the one by Michelangelo, with a focus on human drama, and survivors helping each other. No mighty waves and desperately drowning people, though there are people whose boat is about to capsize.
Or by Turner, where natural forces play as big a part as suffering humans:
Or by modern artists, who focus on natural forces. almost exclusively, trying to make you feel not an observer, but someone who is about to drown himself:
Art response to a non-Biblical deluge was pioneered by Leonardo da Vinci (you can enjoy its full version here):
But still it’s more of an Apocalypse than a normal flood.
One of my favourite deluges comes from Alfred Sisley. Everything is flooded, but people find ways to go on living. The subtle but strong conflict between the flooded land and the skies is one of the best in the history of arts.
Claude Monet left a nice gallery of flooded nature, but it’s more about the “airs” and the trees reflecting in the water:
One of the most unusual floods was painted by a Pre-Raphaelite, Sir John Everett Millais. I am not sure if it is sentimentality or water that floods this painting, though.
Poor Eisenstein with his Potemkin movie! It turns out he was not the first with his pram:
Contemporary flood paintings often look like documentaries, rather than generalisations about the human condition:
Where’s the new, contemporary flood? Where are the new ideas? What about old people who refuse the leave their homes in the face of imminent death? What about rescue teams that risk their lives trying to help those who thought it was nothing and didn’t leave when there was still a chance? What’s the drama of a modern flood?
Or has the flood stopped being fascinating?