Inundation of the Rhine
Distemper on canvas; signed, inscribed 'My First Distemper' and dated 'Febr 83'
28 x 35 inches
Gifted by Alma-Tadema to his friend John O'Connor and thence by descent from the latter's second wife
In 1883, a catastrophic inundation of the Rhine displaced farms and settlements across 40,000 hectares, causing outbreaks of malaria, typhus and dysentery. In aid of the victims, the German Athenaeum in London organised a charity concert, featuring tableaux vivant; this unexpected painting is a sketch for one of the backdrops. There were four original designs by Tadema: Joyous Life on the Rhine, The Inundation, Misery, and finally Help, when aid arrives; three of them were worked up into stage backdrops to the tableaux by the celebrated set designer, John O’Connor, who worked with Gilbert and Sullivan. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News wrote it up (24 February 1883, p 24): ‘The concert was deserving of the welcome it received from a brilliant audience, amongst whom were TRH the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, etc ... Music was sung by the choir of the German Turnverein [a German gymnastic association in London] under the direction of Herr Liebe, during the exhibition of three tableaux vivants, arranged by Mr Alma Tadema with the help of Mr John O’Connor ... Mr Alma Tadema had generously worked on the scenery of these tableaux for nearly a fortnight, and it was suggested by HRH the Prince of Wales that photographs should be taken of these “beautiful works of art” and sold for the benefit of the victims.’