‘The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise’ by Benjamin West (1791)
Benjamin West (1728-1820), an Anglo- American history painter, was hailed the ‘American Raphael’. He lived during the era of the American War of Independence and the Seven Years War. Although born in Pennsylvania in 1728, he settled in London in 1763. Here he received the patronage of King George III and the assurance of the financial support of the Crown.
In 1779, West intended to execute one of his greatest conceived projects. He desired to rebuild the Royal Chapel at the Windsor Castle. However, sadly, this scheme was abruptly cancelled by the King of England in 1801. Subsequently many of his completed individual paintings, including the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, were lost. After nearly two centuries it resurfaced at an auction in London in 1989.
Unlike popular culture, West in his painting depicts not the Garden of Paradise teeming with natural beauty and peaceful glory but rather draws us to the very heart of this theological, mystical and spiritual subject.
‘Fearfully and wonderfully made’, the first humans are placed into an eternal garden with practically free reign. ‘Eat of all the trees in the garden, save one i.e. ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’’. However in walks the deceiver embodied as a serpent. Confident of the outcome of the snack, he makes no casual conversation. He lures man and woman into a stolen identity, to ‘be like God’ but without God and not in accordance to His will. In this way he shrewdly sets up the humans, or God or both for a confrontation.
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