The image of a pristine landscape, cleansed by the waters of the deluge, represents a fresh slate for colonists who are expanding into the American wilderness while reminding settlers that nature will find a way of returning to its pristine condition if humanity does not learn to live in harmony with its surroundings. Religious themes, derived from scripture, appeared in many of the English-born painter's masterpieces and geological anomalies are often cited as evidence of the flood. The oil-on-canvas painting, measuring 90.8 cm by 121.4 cm, is displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Gallery in Washington DC.
Cole, who believed in literal truth of the Bible, sought to create an accurate portrayal of what the earth would have looked like after the deluge. Nature, the artist believed, needed to be protected from the destructive force of humanity and he sought to immortalise the untamed lands of America with his brush before it vanished forever. The landscape, as seen from the mouth of a cavern, is in a state of transition and the ark remains floating on the water amidst mountain peaks that protrude from the surface of the deep. A bird, which could be either the dove or the raven that Noah is said to have released in scriptural accounts of the flood, flies away from the ark but it is unclear as to whether or not the winged animal shall return. The waters of the deluge are subsiding, that much is certain, yet the earth is still in the process of being cleansed by the destructive force of the flood and the purified world has yet to be revealed.
A new age is dawning, as exemplified by the morning mist that pales the blue and golden hues of the sky, and colonists from the Old World have been given an opportunity to make a new life for themselves on the new continent. These settlers must, however, avoid the mistakes that were made by their European ancestors if they expect their civilisation in the New World to survive. American settlers have escaped the land of monarchy, aristocracy and organised religion but only vigilance will preserve their liberty and prevent a descent into an iniquitous state of decadence and tyranny. The fledgeling United States must, therefore, be a nation of enlightened citizens who are willing to protect this land of freedom and opportunity for the benefit of future generations. Flood myths, first emerging in ancient Mesopotamian civilisations, have served as cautionary tales for humanity since the time of the Sumerians.