John Martin: Apocalypse
21 September 2011 – 15 January 2012
Tate has taken a leaf out of John Martin's oversize book and has pulled out all the stops to create the largest display of the artist's work to be seen in public since the early 19th century.
It continues the recent move in the art community to rehabilitate the artist's legacy " to reassess these stunning apocalyptic canvases after a century and a half of water has passed under the bridges of his beloved Thames.In addition to the blockbuster oil paintings, the exhibition includes Martin's mezzotint illustrations for The Bible and Milton's Paradise Lost, alongside landscape watercolours and his illustrations of dinosaurs and various engineering projects.
Standing a massive 8 feet by 5 feet, 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 grandees of the Babylonian court hide their faces.After Martin's death, The Great Day of His Wrath (1851"3) was taken round the world, thrilling audiences from New York to Sydney with its painstaking detail and characteristically epic scale.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.