National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise Benjamin West (painter)
American, 1738 - 1820
The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, 1791
oil on canvas
overall: 186.8 x 278.1 cm (73 9/16 x 109 1/2 in.)
Avalon Fund and Patrons' Permanent Fund
1989.12.1
On View
From the Tour: British and American History Paintings of the 1700s
Object 5 of 8

By 1779, Benjamin West had conceived his life’s “great work,“ intending to rebuild the Royal Chapel at Windsor Castle as a shrine to Anglican theology. His proposal involved some forty different subjects from the Old and New Testaments, all rendered on a colossal scale. After sponsoring West’s elaborate scheme for two decades, King George III canceled it in 1801. Although the overall project was abandoned, many individual canvases were completed. This nine-foot-long Expulsion had been shown at the Royal Academy of art in 1791.

The Archangel Michael, as the agent of the Lord’s wrath, expels the first sinners from Eden. Overhead, a sharp ray of light cuts through the air in reference to God’s “flaming sword” in the Book of Genesis. While Eve implores forgiveness, Adam covers his face to hide his sobbing. They wear fur robes because God clothed them in “coats of skins” so that they could stand unashamed in his presence. Satan’s serpent, now cursed, slithers away on its belly to eat dust.

West’s inventive interpretation in this Expulsion contains two motifs not found in Genesis or any traditional pictures of the theme: an eagle swoops upon a helpless bird and a lion chases frightened horses. In general terms, such beasts of prey might imply the destruction of harmony that resulted from Original Sin.

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