Critics' Choices

John Martin

John Martin at Fitch-Febvrel Gallery

Critics' Choices, The New York Times, October 12–18, 1986, by John Russell.

Fifty years ago it was possible to buy a painting by John Martin for next to nothing. As for the books that he illustrated, they turned up on book-barrows all over England and often cost only pennies. Born in the year of the French Revolution, Martin lived until 1854, had moments of celebrity in his lifetime, and then somehow fell through the floorboards of art history. The fact that he was a visionary artist who could match himself against the Old Testament and go the distance without apparent effort counted for nothing in the 1920's and 1930's.

But in our own time, John Martin has come all the way back again. Curators, connoisseurs and book collectors stand in line for his work when it appears on the market. His visions were true visions — fiery and never-failing, with direct access to heaven, hell and all regions between. For a glimpse of this, go to the Fitch-Febvrel Gallery, 5 East 57th Street, where there is a show of John Martin's prints through Nov. 8. Victorian print techniques served him well, and in these sheets a unique imagination is encapsulated.

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