The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, 1829
Oil on canvas
Like J.M.W. Turner in England, Cole absorbed the ideas of early nineteenth-century geologists. He believed that the universal flood described in the Old Testament-a flood ordained by God to destroy sinful humanity—could explain the rock formations and fossil deposits that were being brought to light. Here, the dark tumbled rocks, shattered trees, and a human skull suggest the cataclysmic force of the storm. Yet a soft light is spreading over the horizon, and the dove flies back over tranquil waters to the ark at the centre of the composition. It marks a new beginning for humankind, a symbol of Christian redemption.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C, Gift of Mrs. Katie Dean in memory of Minnibel S. and James Wallace Dean and Museum Purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisitions program