John Martin, "master of apocalypse," gets rare show

Mon Sep 19, 2011 11:59am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - The public adored John Martin's apocalyptic images of destruction and chaos yet the art establishment shunned him, helping to consign the British artist's works to the storage vaults.

Now a new show at London's Tate Britain gallery seeks to remind modern viewers what all the fuss was about nearly 200 years ago, when thousands of people queued to see Martin's work.

Charting the artist's rise to stardom, fall from grace and brief posthumous rehabilitation, "John Martin: Apocalypse" represents the largest display of Martin's works seen in public since 1822.

The exhibition, which runs from September 21-January 15, 2012 also features Martin's "lost" masterpiece, "The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum," painted in 1821 but badly damaged in a flood in 1928.

Experts have carried out a painstaking restoration of the large, dramatic canvas, and the work will be seen in public for the first time in almost a century.

"His images touched the lives of thousands of ordinary people in Britain and around the world, but his reputation has suffered from art world snobbery and misunderstanding," said Martin Myrone, curator of the show.

Martin is best known for his large canvases depicting spectacular scenes from the Bible, legend and history in which the romanticized backdrop -- architectural or natural -- dwarfs the human element.

Among the earliest examples on display in the exhibition is "Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion," dated 1812, based on James Ridley's popular Orientalist fantasy "Tales of the Genii."   Continued...

<p>A worker walks past John Martin's recently restored "The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum", in Tate Britain in central London September 19, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Winning</p>