This exhibition explored how the idea of the Deluge has been represented and interpreted by British artists and writers from the end of the eighteenth century to the present day. It considered the diverse ways they have responded to accounts of floods—biblical, mythological, fictional, and real—and the political ends to which this theme has been used in their respective historical contexts.
Drawing on the Center’s collections of prints and drawings, photographs, and rare books and manuscripts, Before the Deluge examined the connections between our own sense of antediluvianism and that of earlier times, charting the artistic representation of apocalyptic floods, and the scientific and political debates about the Deluge to which these writers and artists contributed. From John Martin’s Deluge, one of the most sensational images of the Romantic age, to the diluvian reimagining of the eighteenth-century English landscape by contemporary artist John Goto, we see the floodwaters rise and recede, only to seep back once again. However, Before the Deluge also considered how proximity to water and its threat inspired human ingenuity through various objects, such as paper peepshows of the Thames tunnel and blueprints for bridges and canals. The fragile relationship between human civilization and the water that sustains or destroys us has perhaps never been more apparent than at the present moment.
Before the Deluge: Apocalyptic Floodscapes from John Martin to John Goto, 1789 to Now was curated by Eva-Charlotta Mebius, doctoral candidate in English at University College London and former Yale-UCL exchange scholar, with assistance from Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections at the Yale Center for British Art.