John Martin exhibition @ Tate Britain

Only a few more weeks to catch the John Martin exhibition at Tate Britain. Fascinating show revealing:

  • what difficulties this Newcastle painter (the audioguide is in a lovely Geordie accent) had fitting in with the London art establishment
  • just how bad many of his huge paintings were, both technically, and in their overblown apocalyptic subject matter, particularly for the modern viewer
  • but how wildly popular they were in his own day – he and his buyers took the paintings on tour and, like a rock band, they were seen in venues all over the country where crowds queued for tickets

The show is unusual for climaxing with a cinema-style performance, where you sit on tiered seats and listen to extracts from the painter, his critics, extracts from the Bible etc, while a very effective light show brings his final end-of-the-world trio of paintings vividly to life.

Other pleasures include a room of his mezzotints and engravings with some very effective illustrations of that other great master of the Sublime, Milton.

But my favourite item was a small painting of a couple in a corner of a gently sloping field, bordered by Gainsborough-style trees, a surprisingly modest English rural idyll, light and simple after the vast end-of-the-world epics which dominate the earlier rooms.

Tate video about John Martin


Related links

More Tate Britain reviews

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