The Sacrifice of Noah was one of the subjects that West proposed for King George III's planned Chapel of Revealed Religion at Windsor. Both the Deluge and the rainbow, the sign of God's covenant, are key examples of God manifesting himself to man. The present composition is an early idea, probably dating from the early 1780s. The catalogue for the 1983 San Antonio exhibition notes that choosing to show Noah's sacrifice taking place in a world that is still largely submerged is 'highly original' and without precedent. In order to combine the two divine manifestations in one composition, West has even gone against the biblical text, which states that the sacrifice did not take place until the flood waters had receded.
Although King George's plans for the Chapel never came to fruition, West later developed this composition into two separate pictures: Noah sacrificing (circa 1801), in the San Antonio Museum of Art, Texas (von Erffa & Staley, 236); and The Deluge (1790-1803). Although the whereabouts of the large version of The Deluge is currently unknown, the smaller version is now in the Williams College Art Museum, Williamstown, Massachusetts (von Erffa & Staley, 235). The arrangement and pose of Noah and his family, both in the present drawing and the finished picture of Noah sacrificing, seem to derive from a picture of the same subject that was thought in the 18th Century to be by Poussin, and which West probably knew through an engraving of 1746 by J. Frey (N.L. Pressley, Revealed Religion, 1983, exh. cat., p. 33).
For further information on the Royal Chapel in Windsor Castle, see lot 36.