(1789-1854) UK painter and illustrator, with a spectacularly melodramatic imagination, whose vast canvases depicting cataclysmic biblical scenes have informed much modern fantasy Illustration. Even his delicate mezzotint illustrations for such editions as John Milton's Paradise Lost (1824) have an epic quality. His paintings typically feature multitudes of tiny figures and fantastic architecture under turbulent skies. Known as "mad John Martin", he was the younger brother of Jonathan Martin (1782-1838), who was imprisoned in a London mental hospital for setting fire to York Minster in 1829.
JM was born of poor parents in Northumberland and apprenticed to a coachbuilder in Newcastle, learning to paint heraldic devices on the side panels. Released from his indentures, he finally settled in London, exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1811. The paintings that made him famous were doom-laden Old Testament catastrophes such as "Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still" (1816), "The Fall of Babylon" (1819), "The Deluge" (1826) and "The Great Day of His Wrath" (circa 1853). Despite the great popularity of his illustrations for Milton and the Bible, his career faltered, though revived when he painted "The Coronation of Queen Victoria" (1839). Thereafter his reputation declined again, but has recently risen once more. In the intervening years, much of his work has been lost. [RT]