Theory developed by Edmund Burke in the mid eighteenth century, where he defined sublime art as art that refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation

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  • John Martin, 'The Great Day of His Wrath' 1851-3

    John Martin
    The Great Day of His Wrath 1851-3
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1965 x 3032 mm frame: 2400 x 3470 x 175 mm
    Purchased 1945

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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth' exhibited 1842

    Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842
    Oil on canvas
    support: 914 x 1219 mm frame: 1233 x 1535 x 145 mm
    Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

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  • Henry Fuseli, 'Percival Delivering Belisane from the Enchantment of Urma' exhibited 1783

    Henry Fuseli
    Percival Delivering Belisane from the Enchantment of Urma exhibited 1783
    Oil on canvas
    support: 991 x 1257 mm frame: 1248 x 1510 x 108 mm
    Presented by the Art Fund 1941

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The theory of sublime art was put forward by Edmund Burke in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful published in 1757. He defined the sublime as an artistic effect productive of the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling. He wrote ‘whatever is in any sort terrible or is conversant about terrible objects or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime’.

In landscape the sublime is exemplified by J.M.W Turner’s sea storms and mountain scenes and in history painting by the violent dramas of Henry Fuseli. The notion that a legitimate function of art can be to produce upsetting or disturbing effects was an important element in Romantic art and remains fundamental to art today.