Friday, 25 March 2011

Heaven and Hell: John Martin

At the beginning of this week I paid a visit to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, to see their John Martin exhibition. I hadn't previously been aware of his work, and I'm so glad I saw it!

 Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion

Martin (1789-1854) was an extraordinary man - bipolar, a rationalist who specialised in religious scenes, a devoted amateur scientist: he achieved great success at the time as a painter, but would really rather have been an engineer! - who was derided by the art establishment for being too populist and entertaining. His paintings were Romantic in style: huge vistas of beetling mountains; vast and distant cities evoking a past of unimaginable grandeur; drama and destruction; lurid colours. And lightning - I lost count of the number of scenes taking place in an electrical storm. He painted Things Blowing Up (Pompeii and Herculaneum, Sodom and Gomorrah) and The End of The World, Heaven ... and Hell.


Despite his current obscurity, he was an immense influence on the Pre-Raphaelites, on Victorian engineers, and on film-makers from Cecil B de Mille to Ray Harryhausen to George Lucas. I can see echoes of his style in modern fantasy paintings of lost or futuristic cities.

This was one I was most impressed with - it doesn't show up well online, but in the flesh you can look right down those colonnades at the back, for about a mile.

I've never seen a painter who gives a better impression of depth to his landscapes. They're huge in scale, yet so detailed it feel like you could fly into his vistas.Though you might not want to, given all the lightning and the falling rocks ....

The Great Day of His Wrath

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

The exhibition runs until 5th June. Entry is free.


Craig Sorensen said...

The paintings are indeed remarkable for their sense of depth. Very impressive. The sense of heat is also very tactile.

I was not familiar with him, so thank you for posting this.

Janine Ashbless said...

Plus, my friend bought me the exhibition T-shirt :-)