Apocalypse Now!


‘From my earliest experimentation with fantasy animation and special effects in the 1930s through to my Clash of the Titans in 1981, John Martin’s apocalyptic paintings have provided a model and inspiration. Barbara C. Morden’s excellent new book brings to life the man and the techniques which shaped the creative imagination and visual perceptions of his own and succeeding generations. John Martin can indeed be called the ‘father’ of modern cinema.’- Ray Harryhausen

The Great Day of his Wrath by John Martin

Martin, was a multi-talented artist born into a time of critical change and turmoil, not unlike our own. His paintings and engravings captured the mood of apocalyptic expectation found in Britain and throughout Europe in the period from the French Revolution to the mid-19th century. From an extremely humble background, Martin’s success was achieved without academic support and patronage, being the result of his own drive and initiative. He was an entrepreneur, showman and celebrity with an awareness of a developing popular culture which marks him as essentially ‘modern’.

In his lifetime Martin, painter and engraver of the ‘apocalyptic sublime’ was, like Dickens, adept in capturing the emotions and appetite for sensation in the general population. In the later 19th century his reputation was high throughout Europe and, in America where his Judgement pictures toured in the 1850s, the tropes and images of Martin contributed to the concept of the ‘American sublime’, influenced early cinema, and went on to shape digital media and film in the 21st century. Yet, in Britain, unlike his friend and rival painter Turner, for over a century the name and work of John Martin was forgotten or reduced to a footnote.

This beautifully illustrated book (published by Northumbria Press in November 2010), makes an important contribution to the revival of national and international interest in John Martin and complements the important exhibition John Martin: Heaven and Hell, co-curated by the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle and Tate Britain, London. This exhibition, which brings together the largest collection of Martin’s work ever to be assembled, opened in Newcastle in early March 2011, travels to the Graves Gallery, Sheffield in June and transfers to Tate Britain in October 2011 as the major London winter exhibition. In the light of revived interest in John Martin nationally and internationally John Martin: Apocalypse Now! provides an accessible, informed guide to the meaning and context of his pictures and their impact on the viewer now and then.

Plains of heaven by John Martin

Dr Morden’s Apocalypse Now! captures the apocalyptic mood in England from the 1790s to the 1840s and examines Martin’s central position as a painter of the "sublime". The distinctive character of his paintings of Biblical catastrophe and visions of paradise is explored through key paintings, foregrounding his subject matter and techniques and their relationship to the culture and of popular entertainments of the time.

It explores how Martin was also a man in touch with contemporary science and technology; his plans to improve civic amenities and public health in London; and how his work influenced 19th century railway and public architecture. Importantly, the book features how Martin’s reputation spread to Europe and America; how it determined the course of early 20th century cinema and anticipated the culture of inter-active mass media in the 21st century.

John Martin: Apocalypse Now! establishes John Martin as an important figure in cultural history, shaping the way we view and respond to our modern world. It is a delight to handle, highly readable with delectable illustrations and, for a book of such quality, is very reasonably priced.

As a tribute to John Martin and this book, the famous Hollywood special effects film-maker, Ray Harryhausen (familiar through the Voyages of Sinbad films of the 1970s and the first Clash of the Titans of 1981) endorses it in these words: ‘From my earliest experimentation with fantasy animation and special effects in the 1930s through to my Clash of the Titans in 1981, John Martin’s apocalyptic paintings have provided a model and inspiration. Barbara C. Morden’s excellent new book brings to life the man and the techniques which shaped the creative imagination and visual perceptions of his own and succeeding generations. John Martin can indeed be called the ‘father’ of modern cinema.’

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