“Jesus and Peter on the Water”, Gustave Brion (1863)

 In MOA Features

Guest Post by, PR Intern

The tumultuous sea surrounding Peter in Gustave Brion’s “Jesus and Peter on the Water” gives viewers further insight into the Biblical story found in Matthew 14. The dark color of the water and bleak grey sky make one think, “How would I react in this situation?” Because this painting forces us to be introspective, it becomes easier to understand the fear that Peter must have had. The details in Peter’s face show panic and desperation as he reaches for Christ’s outstretched hand. This sense of desperation is juxtaposed with Christ’s calm, understanding light. This light radiates from His being, making the life-threatening event of being lost at sea seem somehow bearable.

Gustave Brion (1824-1877), Jesus and Peter on the Water, 1863, oil on canvas, 44 1/8 x 72 1/2 in., Brigham Young University Museum of Art, made possible by a generous gift from Vern G. and Judy N. Swanson

When Brion exhibited this painting at the Paris Salon in 1863, one critic wrote, “In the midst of immensity, the small figure of Christ in white drapery, grazing the waves like a seagull, supports the good saint Peter, who struggles to stay afloat. It is simple, grand and masterful. Here is a biblical painting.”
Gustave Brion’s works usually focused on peasants and their everyday lives. Brion was a book illustrator who designed storybook characters. He had to be intentional about how he depicted each person. Though religious paintings were not the primary focus of his career, it is clear that Brion understood human psychology. When we are able to put ourselves in Peter’s shoes, this familiar story seems to become new again. What do you feel as you look at this painting? Come see it in person in our “Rend the Heavens: Intersections of the Human and Divine” exhibition today!

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