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John Martin

1789 – 1854

The Deluge by John Martin

The Deluge   1828

  Original mezzotint with etching.
With the artist’s name engraved in the plate.
Ref: Campbell-Wees 78; Balston 8a7
S 492 x 733 mm; I 478 x 715 mm
Original John Martin mezzotint with etching.

The spectacular large plate mezzotint engraved by John Martin himself. Rare.

Rich, dark impression of the earlier version of this brilliant mezzotint with deep velvety blacks and impressive tonal range.
Prior to the major alterations which John Martin made to the lower left area of the image and prior to the addition of further rain effects across the centre of the image.

John Martin’s magnificent large scale mezzotints are the most impressive original works ever to have been produced in the soft steel medium and are amongst the most powerful and spectacular works of the period. These extraordinary visionary designs represent some of the very few truly creative, original works to be produced by any major artist of the period using the mezzotint process.

John Martin considered The Deluge to be one of the most important of all of his works and he came to regard his painting of this subject as his favourite work. The biblical Deluge was a subject of recurring interest to him throughout his life, representing the meeting point of his religious and scientific beliefs. Even as late as 1840, over a decade after this engraving, he created two enormous paintings as companion subjects to complete a trilogy centered around The Deluge. Indeed, this subject was to provide the basis for five further related engravings, the last of which, The Eve of the Deluge, was to be his final published mezzotint plate.

This mezzotint engraving of The Deluge, published in 1828, was an enormous popular and financial success for John Martin. However, remarkably few impressions of this tremendous large-scale print have survived intact and impressions of this quality are now rare.

John Martin was concerned that this image of The Deluge should not be seen as pure fantasy. He took pains to detail the various aspects of the composition in an eight-page pamphlet which he published to accompany and explain this engraving. In the sky are represented the sun, the moon and a comet, the conjunction of which John Martin believed had caused the Deluge due to their combined gravitational pull. The ark was placed carefully, high on an outcrop of the mountains, “that it should not have to bear the shocks, heavings of the earth and out breakings of the waters – or it would be wrecked at the outset”. The scale of the entire work was calculated with the greatest accuracy, the mid-ground perpendicular rock supposedly 4,000 feet in height.

A very fine example of the first published version of this engraving, prior to the rust in the lower left area of the plate. Prior to the almost total re-engraving of the waves at the lower left corner of the image and before the removal of the small silhouetted finger of rock beside these waves. In this state the sky at the centre of the image is comparatively clear and light – in the later published version John Martin added many further vertical lines in this area to increase the effect of rain. At the right, the silhouetted trees appear distinct; the trunks of these trees became suffused into a general mass of vegetation in the later published version of the engraving. This impression is a rich early example of this early state of the plate. John Martin owned his own printing workshop and was careful to oversee the printing of every impression, although this particular example does show evidence of a group of horizontal printing creases in the lower centre of the image. John Martin’s son Leopold noted that the ominous effects of light found in most impressions of this engraving were created chiefly by the careful mixing and wiping of the ink for each impression.

On warm white wove J Whatman paper, with narrow margins beyond the image on all sides. The group of horizontal printing creases have been effectively obscured by expert retouching. Minor defects at extreme outer edges of sheet, otherwise generally good condition.