Mon, 02 Jan 2012
John Martin's "Apocalypse" at The Tate

Happy New Year to all.

Although it's a quiet day on the 1st January, I saw that the Tate was open so decided to pop down there for a couple of hours. Now that TFL have a live bus departure web page, getting a 20 minute bus ride is much more pleasant as well. I know when to walk to the bus stop and wait ...

One of the current exhibitions is John Martin: Apocalypse, featuring some very monumental paintings done in the early to mid 19th Century. His most famous is from a group of three (a triptych) and called The Great Day of his Wrath :

As I say, monumental, that is: large (3x2m) and detailed. Martin excelled at the extreme panorama, a generally fantastic landscape, often peopled by small, detailed human forms (or entire armies). They really are almost cinematic, widescreen films. In fact, some film makers acknowledge him as an inspiration (like DW Griffith or Cecil B. DeMille).

The Great Day of His Wrath shows the end of the world. It is one of three paintings shown together as a triptych, the others being The Last Judgment and The Plains of Heaven.

The Tate shows all three side by side and also puts on a show courtesy of Uninvited Guests. You can take a seat, the room darkens and then light and colour is projected onto the paintings, animated in part to bring out some of the horror (apocalypse) or tranquility (heaven) of the scene. Alongside some earthquake rumbling and audio effects, the show is very effective. It also includes some spoken parts, descriptions and reactions to the works, and a bit of biblical recitation. All good fun, and it let me get off a snap as shown below :

The paintings are very impressive and were very popular in their day (being toured internationally even). However, Martin went out of favour for a long time, being regarded by the "high brow" art establishment as too "popular" and garish. I can see some of the reasons why here, and to some degree, the paintings can look a bit like a paperback book cover, perhaps even pulp science-fiction or fantasy. But the reaction of the art establishment to a popular taste has always been negative it seems, even today.