Winifred Knights, The Deluge, 1920

While studying at Slade School of Fine Art, students competing for the Rome Scholarship in 1920 had to paint the story of Noah and the Flood. The judging panel of ten included the likes of John Singer Sargent (no pressure, eh?). This was Knight’s entry. You can see Noah’s Ark in the distant right while figures in the foreground scramble for higher ground. The central woman wearing a blue cardigan and a black skirt is a self-portrait. Steely gray water fills up the scene and dulls the landscape; keep in mind that this was painted shortly after the end of the First World War when Britain was still recovering. Art historian Georgina Coburn writes that “Place this painting anywhere in the world today and it would be understood through the prism of religion, wars, displacement of people or the truth of climate change. It’s a stunningly faithful rendering of a universal human narrative, piercingly relevant in the present.”

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