Art History: the Religious Paintings or Prints of John Martin
Most of his pictures were reproduced by way of engraving (and book illustration) from which he derived his fortune. Despite his popularity however, his work was spurned by the critics, notably John Ruskin, and he was not elected to the Royal Academy. His fame declined rapidly after his death, although three of his best known works of religious art toured Britain and America in the 1870s.
Martin was an artist who exhibited his own art, much as Damien Hirst did in the 1990s, and who made money from its reproduction. His motives, however, were not merely commercial, for he wanted to draw people’s attention to what he had to say”. Born in Northumberland in July 1789, Martin trained as an ornamental painter. He moved to London in 1806 where he worked as a painter of glass and ceramics as well as a drawing teacher before embarking on a career dedicated to original and visionary work. As early as 1861, Martin’s promoters were claiming that his pictures had already been seen by eight million people.
Penelope Curtis, Foreword, John Martin: Apocalypse, ed. by Martin Myrone, (London, Tate Publishing, 2011) p.6
Myrone, ‘John Martin: art, taste and the spectacle of culture’. Ibid, p.12.
William Feaver, quoted by Lars Kokkonen, ‘The prophet motive? John Martin as a civil engineer’, ibid, p.35.