John Martin: Painting the Apocalypse
22 June – 4 September 2011
Free to all
John Martin is the first major exhibition of the work of this sensationalist Victorian artist for over 40 years. Famous in his lifetime for his dramatic and unusual paintings, Martin has since fallen from favour, overshadowed by his contemporaries. This exhibition seeks to restore his position, reacquainting the world with his epic images of tragedy and apocalypse, as well as his quieter landscapes.Martin was born in the North of England, and it was possibly the craggy landscape of his Northumbrian home that inspired his love of visual drama. Favouring biblical scenes throughout his career, he brought his distinctive wide-screen impact to episodes such as Belshazzar's feast, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and scenes from Exodus and Revelations, all of which can be seen here alongside images of myth and both classical and contemporary landscapes.In addition to Martin's large-scale paintings, the exhibition includes some of the mezzotint copies he made of the works for popular purchase. Martin's watercolours also feature, as well as some of the books that inspired his images.
Standing a massive 8 feet by 5 feet, John Martin's Belshazzar's Feast is the work that brought the artist to fame when it was exhibited in 1821. The panoramic image moves from naturalistic figures in the foreground " gorgeously swathed in reds and golds " to a fantasy skyscape of almost Impressionist abstraction, the hazy light of heaven framing the bright, white lightning flash. Brighter even than this is the glowing supernatural light emanating from the writing on the wall, away from which the people cringe and hide their faces.In The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, once again, Martin's passion is all for the destruction. While his white-clad figures are treated rather cursorily, the painter's energy seems reserved for the fiery teeth of the blaze that destroys the city.Related storiesVideo presentation about the life and work of John Martin made for the Laing Gallery, Yorskshire.Video gallery of Martin's paintings.Preview in the Guardian about the exhibition and reclaiming the reputation of John Martin.