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PostPosted: Sun Sep 25, 2011 8:01 am 
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A major new exhibition opened this week at Tate Britain of visionary Victorian artist John Martin's paintings of biblical disaster.

John Martin is a figure who was fascinating and complex and produced some of the most spectacular pictures in the history of art. Hugely popular in his time, he was derided by the Victorian art establishment as a 'people's painter', for although he excited mass audiences with his astounding scenes of judgement and damnation, to critics it was distasteful. In a sense ahead of this time, his paintings - full of rugged landscapes and grandiose theatrical spectacle - have an enduring influence on today's cinematic and digital fantasy landscapes. Martin's work has appeared on heavy metal album covers and special effects man Ray Harryhausen has described Martin as ‘the father of modern cinema’...

From a review in The Guardian:

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Imagining the worst: that was Martin's speciality. The tower of Babel collapses. Sodom and Gomorrah are obliterated. Etna erupts – look behind you! – and Pompeii is engulfed. Babylon falls, and Nineveh, and Jericho, and pandemonium is naturally unleashed. The contents of the Book of Revelations are fully illustrated, along with Exodus and Paradise Lost – thrilling, edifying and over the top in roughly equal measure.

Martin found form quite early in his career, which began as a painter of inn signs, glass and crockery (the surviving dinner plate is in this show). For all the compositional variations, the essentials do not alter greatly: dizzying height and depth, colossal skies dwarfing whichever culture is seconds from destruction, an unimaginably cavernous space opening in the back of each image. Huge armies are pitted against tiny solo figures. Plunging gorges have their circling eagles, approaching infernos are reflected in polished objects in the foreground, the skylines of ancient cities recede in rectilinear perspective, mocked by the swirly doom-clouds above.

Every comparison you can think of is obvious and true. Martin's paintings anticipate biblical epics and disaster movies and CinemaScope; sci-fi illustrations, concept albums and heavy-metal graphics; Spider-Man (look at the boneless figure of Sadak somehow slithering up a rock as big as a skyscraper) and the avatars of video games. Film directors have acknowledged the immense debt, from DW Griffith to Cecil B DeMille and Roland Emmerich.


Organised in partnership with the Laing gallery, Newcastle, this is the first major exhibition dedicated to Martin's work in over 30 years. The exhibition will showcase some of his best known oil paintings of apocalyptic destruction and biblical disaster from collections around the world, including Belshazzar’s Feast 1820 (on loan from a private collection and not seen in public for over 20 years) as well as previously unseen and newly-restored works such as Pompeii.

The Guardian has a sneak preview of some of the paintings here

Catch this exhibition if you can...it promises to be truly spectacular!

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 25, 2011 3:04 pm 
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One at a time, they're wonderful. Maybe looking at one a day, or even one a week. But looking at the ones in the link over the last few minutes, I was just sort of crushed by the weight of it all.

Amazing pictures.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 25, 2011 3:32 pm 
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I think "crushed by the weight" is probably exactly the reaction Martin was aiming for, vison - his pictures depict man at his most vulnerable, dwarfed by his surroundings, whether natural landscapes or fantastical imaginings...tiny human figures pitched against the terror of Hell or the majesty of Heaven. I loved the description of his paintings as "always imagining the worst!"

It is amazing how you can still spot references to his works in films today - for example the anti-matter explosion scene in the film of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons where Rome acquires a particularly Martinesque apocalyptic sky!

http://youtu.be/U_XbMRRtEJ8

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 25, 2011 4:55 pm 
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Yes, but I don't really need to be crushed! At least not today.

Maybe tomorrow? :D


I agree they are fabulous pictures. I would love to see them in RL.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 25, 2011 5:03 pm 
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Life is crushing enough as it is.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:14 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
Life is crushing enough as it is.


Preach it, brother. :hug:

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 25, 2011 8:57 pm 
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That's true, Voronwë, which is why I don't watch depressing movies.

However, I liked the artwork. That scene of Queen Victoria's coronation was the most soul-crushing, though. ;)

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 11:07 am 
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I went to see this last week. :) Friday night after work. Very much worth it.

I've always loved his famous triptych -- The Great Day of His Wrath, The Final Judgement and The Plains of Heaven.

And yes they are BIIIIIIIIG paintings. :D Big in concept!

These paintings have had quite an impact on other artists and filmmakers: in fact, the fall of Mordor in the film of RotK really reminded me of The Great Day of his wrath ... and apparently that was a genuine source of inspiration. 8)

His paintings were very popular with the public but he failed to win over the critics, sadly. A bit of intellectual snobbery there, I can't help feeling ... critics tend to be a bit 'sneery' about popular appeal. Boo.

Anyway, 200 years after his birth, we're still admiring and enjoying his paintings.

So you did all right, John Martin. :)

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:41 pm 
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Hi Di :wave: I somehow missed your post last week, but thanks for letting us know what you thought of the exhibition!

So I visited this exhibition today and I have to say I was simply blown away by the sheer power and beauty of Martin’s spectacular paintings…Highlight of the exhibition was a kind of “son e lumiere” lantern show based around the Last Judgement triptych’s macabre visions of heaven and hell. Just the huge number of his paintings on display together definitely made it a truly worthwhile exhibition to attend.

I love the immense depth of scenery in Martin’s pictures, and the thrilling drama.The scale of the paintings in many cases is incredible, and needless to say, renders the viewing of reproduction images in print or on the web pretty pointless. One just cannot appreciate the intricate detail and masterful technique that Martin employed in his “blockbuster” works. To see the physical size and the intensity of colours compared to a reproduction in a book is so different. I marvelled at the clean, geometric lines of his buildings and cities in biblical scenes such as ”Belshazzar’s Feast,” and attention to detail such as the astronomically correct night sky in one of the paintings (I forget which…could have been “The Last Man”)

In “The Bard” The mind-blowing detail in this picture, such as the perfectly drawn bricks of the castle, and the thousands of tiny brush-strokes painstakingly placed to create the effect of hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers and horses marching down and around the sloping track into the valley. The lighting in the gallery helped show the textures to perfection.

My favourite painting I think, is The Assuaging of the Waters which illustrates the dove on its way back to the ark with the branch… the subject matter one of hope over adversity, with the colours reflecting a new dawn. The foreground features the waters receding, with rock pools forming on the newly exposed rocks: the textures employed by Martin with the oils create fantastically realistic strands of seaweed and shells such as limpets and barnacles stuck fast to the rocks. Simply breathtaking to behold close-up.

A great proportion of his works were illustrations of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Biblical stories, with Martin having a natural leaning towards the apocalyptical nature of these works. So much of the cinematic imagery of modern disaster films owes an obvious debt to him that it is hard to remember how strikingly original and magnificent these works must have seemed to so many observers in the 19th century.

Martin’s scale of vision is truly inspiring. It was like viewing scenes from any number of Hollywood blockbusters - you can see “Lord of The Rings” and apocalyptic graphic SCi-Fi novels in almost every epic painting – I was particularly reminded of the Battle of Dagorlad from the FotR Prologue, with Sauron high up above the plain, in this painting of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still upon Gibeon


I have to say that it seems a given that if Martin was still painting today, he would be illustrating Tolkien. Surely his style would be perfect for The Silmarillion? Just look at Pandemonium… It makes me automatically think of Sauron in Númenor! Talking of which, if only Martin had been born to paint the destruction of Númenor....

Which begs the question: which artists would you like to have seen try their hand at illustrating Tolkien? For me, I can just imagine the Elves drawn by Burne Jones, based upon his Grail tapestries and stained glass angels. But perhaps this is a topic for another thread… :D

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 1:24 am 
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I would have liked to have seen van Gogh illustrate Voronwë's vision of the bright stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.

Oh wait, he did. :)

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 8:48 am 
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of Vinyamar
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Hmm. I'll be in London in January. Will the exhibition still be running?

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 8:50 am 
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Yep, it's on till Jan 15th, I believe...I do hope that fts in with your plans, Al. it is definitely worth it!

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