John Martin “River of Bliss Bridge over Chaos”
John Martin was born at Haydon Bridge, near Hexham in Northumberland. He was apprenticed by his father to a coachbuilder in Newcastle upon Tyne to learn heraldic painting, but owing to a quarrel the indentures were cancelled, and he was placed under Bonifacio Musso, an Italian artist, father of the enamel painter Charles Muss. With his master, Martin removed from Newcastle to London in 1806, where he married at the age of nineteen, and supported himself by giving drawing lessons, and by painting in water colors, and on china and glass. His leisure was occupied in the study of perspective and architecture . His first exhibited subject picture, Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion (now in the St. Louis Art Museum), was hung in the Ante-room of the Royal Academy in 1812, and sold for fifty guineas. It was followed by the Expulsion (1813), Paradise (1813), Clytie (1814), and Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon (1816). In 1821 appeared his Belshazzar’s Feast, which excited much favorable and hostile comment, and was awarded a prize of £200 at the British Institution, where the Joshua had previously carried off a premium of £100. Then came the Destruction of Herculaneum (1822), the Creation (1824), the Eve of the Deluge (1841), and a series of other Biblical and imaginative subjects. The Plains of Heaven is thought to reflect his memories of the Allendale of his youth.
Martin’s large paintings were inspired by “contemporary dioramas or panoramas, popular entertainments in which large painted cloths were displayed, and animated by the skilful use of artificial light. Martin has often been claimed as a forerunner of the epic cinema, and there is no doubt that the pioneer director D. W. Griffith was aware of his work.” In turn, the diorama makers borrowed Martin’s work, to the point of plagiarism. A 2,000-square-foot (190 m2) version of Belshazzar’s Feast was mounted at a facility called the British Diorama in 1833; Martin tried, but failed, to shut down the display with a court order. Another diorama of the same picture was staged in New York City in 1835. These dioramas were tremendous successes with their audiences, but wounded Martin’s reputation in the serious art world. The painting The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, 1852 is currently at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.
In addition to being a painter, John Martin was a major mezzotint engraver and for significant periods of his life he earned more from his engravings than his paintings. In 1823, Martin was commissioned by Samuel Prowett, an American publisher, to illustrate John Milton’s Paradise Lost, for which he was paid 2000 pounds. However, before the first 24 engravings were completed he was paid a further 1500 pounds for a second set of 24 engravings on smaller plates. Two of the more notable prints includePandæmonium and Satan Presiding at the Infernal Council, remarkable for the science fiction element visible in the depicted architecture. Prowett issued 4 separate editions of the engravings in monthly installments, the first appearing on 20 March 1825 and the last in 1827. Later, inspired by Prowett’s venture, between 1831 and 1835 Martin published his own illustrations to the Old Testament but the project was a serious drain on his resources and not very profitable. He sold his remaining stock to Charles Tilt who republished them in a folio album in 1838 and in a smaller format in 1839.
John Martin “River of Bliss Bridge over Chaos”, Engraved by John Martin. The work measures 8.25 by 7.50 inches approximate and in good condition.