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Jonah and the Whale: Rebirth Motif

John B. Flannagan

American Art

On View:
John B. Flannagan’s interpretation of the Old Testament story of Jonah and the whale reflects his career-long interest in themes of life, death, and rebirth. In this relief sculpture, Flannagan depicted the contorted body of Jonah enclosed in a womblike shape, which is enveloped, in turn, by the larger silhouette of the whale. His stylized forms and carefully incised lines verge on abstraction.

A major proponent of the early twentieth-century practice of direct carving, Flannagan advocated a spontaneity of approach and truth to materials—highlighting the inherent properties of the medium itself. He once remarked: “There exists an image within every rock. The creative act of realization merely frees it.” The original piece of bluestone, which the artist kept in his studio for two years, likely guided the form and content of this composition.
MEDIUM Bluestone with wood base
DATES 1937
DIMENSIONS 33 1/2 × 11 1/4 × 6 in., 61.5 lb. (85.1 × 28.6 × 15.2 cm, 27.9kg)  (show scale)
ACCESSION NUMBER 1992.11.12a-b
CREDIT LINE Bequest of Edith and Milton Lowenthal
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Statue of flattened, upright whale (face down, tail up) with contorted figure of bearded man in its stomach carved in relief on both sides; statue attached to rough wood block base. Condition: Good.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION John B. Flannagan (American, 1895–1942). Jonah and the Whale: Rebirth Motif, 1937. Bluestone with wood base, 33 1/2 × 11 1/4 × 6 in., 61.5 lb. (85.1 × 28.6 × 15.2 cm, 27.9kg). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Edith and Milton Lowenthal, 1992.11.12a-b (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1992.11.12_front_PS11.jpg)
IMAGE front, 1992.11.12_front_PS11.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2017
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