Room 5

John Martin exhibition banner

‘Three Great Pictures’
The ‘Last Judgement’ Triptych c.1845–53

Martin’s final project was the completion of a triptych of paintings on the theme of the end of the world, as prophesied in the biblical Book of Revelation. They mark the culmination of a career spent painting apocalyptic disaster and met with an astonishing public reception. From the time of Martin’s death in 1854 until the 1870s the pictures were continually on tour in a paying exhibition that travelled to galleries, theatres, music halls and commercial and civic spaces all over the country. They were promoted relentlessly, with special ticket offers, accompanying lectures, evening viewings by gaslight, and breathlessly excited advertising campaigns. In 1856–7 the paintings were on display in New York, and in 1878–9 they travelled as far as Australia. It was claimed that as many as eight million people had seen the pictures around the world.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the paintings disappeared into storage. They seemed to exemplify a Victorian ‘bad taste’ and religious sincerity which jarred with the values of the modern cultural elite. Martin’s reputation as an artist began to recover after the 1940s, and the three paintings were eventually brought back together at the Tate Gallery in 1974.

Theatrical display of the ‘Last Judgement’ triptych

Exhibitions of these paintings were sometimes accompanied by dramatic lectures and lighting. Theatre company Uninvited Guests have created a sound and light show for our own times, when apocalyptic blockbusters are a popular cinematic entertainment. The words you can hear are drawn from the pamphlet that contained a descriptive key to the paintings, published advertisements and reviews from the time of the original exhibition tour and Martin’s inspiration, the Book of Revelation, King James Bible.

The presentation lasts for 10 minutes and takes place every half hour.

  • First show: 10.30
  • Final show: 17.30 (late night Fridays: 21.30).

An installation by Uninvited Guests & Fuel in collaboration with Lewis Gibson
Animation by Stephen Gray