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Flood on the Mississippi, 1896
Alfred Boisseau (1823-1903)

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Oil on canvas
36 x 52 inches
Signature Details: A. Boisseau/1896
Status: Private Collection, Louisiana

Alfred Boisseau was born in Paris and studied with the noted French academic painter, Paul Delaroche. He later showed at the Paris Salon. Though little is known of his life, he resided in New Orleans between 1845 and 1848, and was probably drawn to the city because his brother served as secretary to the French consul. He exhibited two works at the 1849 National Academy of Design in New York, a portrait and a Creole landscape, and he then appeared in Cleveland in 1852, where he advertised as a portrait and landscape painter, art teacher, and art dealer and remained until 1859. He settled in Montreal in 1860, where he was known to produce portraits of local society, and died in Buffalo in 1901.


The importance of the Mississippi River to its surrounding geography cannot be overestimated. As one of this country’s principal waterways-the largest river in North America-it sustained a vast network of local economies along its banks. While the river provided important economic support, it was also destructive in its long history of flooding.


Flood on the Mississippi conveys the horror of this extreme act of nature, showing a family that includes parents, their three young children, and an old woman dressed in rags, driven by the rising floodwaters to the uppermost reaches of a rooftop as a rescue team approaches them by boat, with another group visible in the distance. Few works by this artist are extant today, making this major composition even more exceptional. Boisseau revealed himself to be a highly skilled painter of theatrical narrative in this canvas, as he has persuasively portrayed the peril and urgency of the situation. His proficiency in rendering details can be seen in the branches floating by the boat, the foam as the rowboat breaks the water, and the effects of the rain and rain clouds on the horizon, which all contribute to the veracity, atmosphere, and drama of the scene. The painting may document a major flood in the spring of 1882, as noted by Mark Twain, who was serving as a correspondent to the New Orleans Times-Democrat in March 1882 . VAL



Mahe II, John A. and Roseanne McCaffrey, editors. Encyclopaedia of New Orleans Artists, 1718-1918. New Orleans: Historic New Orleans Collection, 1987.


Wiesendanger, Martin and Margaret. 19th Century Louisiana Painters and Paintings from the Collection of W.E. Groves. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 1971.


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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.



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