Jonah is considered one of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s masterpieces. The painting depicts the story of Jonah from the Bible, with themes of damnation, terror, and salvation. Ryder’s signature style is evident in this densely painted canvas through broad shapes and stylized figures set against a dream-like land and seascape.
Ryder worked slowly and meticulously on his paintings. He built up layers until they acquired sculptural mass, giving Jonah its tightly knit composition. This emphasis on form has been regarded by some art historians as modernist.
The painting is connected to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as it comes close to that fictive painting than anything else in Ryder’s oeuvre. Jonah is paired with poetry that would accompany his work.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum holds Jonah at Sea dated around 1885-1895 as part of their collection. Overall, the artwork portrays Ryder’s poetic temperament using allegorical themes and seascapes – common characteristics in his other works.