(1789-1854) UK painter and illustrator with a spectacularly melodramatic imagination, whose vast canvases depicting cataclysmic biblical scenes of Disaster and the End of the World have informed much modern fantasy Illustration. Even his delicate mezzotint illustrations for such editions as Paradise Lost (1824) by John Milton (1608-1674) have an epic quality. His paintings typically feature multitudes of tiny figures and fantastic architecture under turbulent skies; Ray Harryhausen acknowledged Martin's influence on his films. He was the younger brother of the mentally disturbed Jonathan Martin (1782-1838), known as "mad Martin", who after setting fire to York Minster in 1829 was imprisoned in London's Bethlem Royal Hospital until his death.
Martin was born of poor parents in Northumberland and apprenticed to a coachbuilder in Newcastle, learning to paint heraldic devices on the vehicles' side panels. Released from his indentures, he finally settled in London, exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1811. The paintings that made him famous were doom-laden Old Testament catastrophes such as "Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still" (1816), "The Fall of Babylon" (1819), "The Deluge" (1826), "The Last Judgement" (1851), "The Great Day of His Wrath" (circa 1853) and "The Plains of Heaven" (circa 1853), the final three forming his Last Judgement Trilogy. Despite the great popularity of his illustrations for Milton and the Bible, Martin's career had faltered for a time, though it revived when he painted "The Coronation of Queen Victoria" (1839). After his death his reputation declined again, but by the late twentieth century had risen once more, though in the intervening years much of his work had been lost. A major retrospective exhibition, "John Martin – Apocalypse", was held at Tate Britain 2011-2012. [RT/DRL]
see also: John Harris.
born Haydon Bridge, Northumberland: 19 July 1789
died Isle of Man: 17 February 1854
about the artist
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