Room 6

John Martin exhibition banner

‘A new view of the artist’s character’
The later paintings and watercolours c.1840–53

After John Martin’s death in February 1854, a sale of his watercolours revealed an unfamiliar side to the artist. A critic commented that: ‘These works, beautiful in execution, finished with all the dainty minuteness of even a woman’s hand, and deep and bright in colour, presented us with a new view of the artist’s character’.

This final room of the exhibition includes a range of such watercolours. Many of these show popular tourist sites, and were designed to be highly saleable. There are also several of the ambitious oil paintings that Martin created in his final years. The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah 1852 and a new version of Joshua Commanding the Sun to Still upon Gibeon 1848 show him returning to the epic biblical themes with which he made his name. These adopt a more expressive painterly style than his earlier works, emphasising atmosphere and breadth over minute detail. They retain an emphasis on simple visual impact and a sense of theatre that presented a challenge for mainstream art critics. Even today, they can seem to sit uncomfortably between the realms of ‘high art’ and popular spectacle.