John Martin was born near Hexham, Northumberland. He was apprenticed first to an heraldic coach painter in Newcastle, and then to a china painter with whom he came to London in 1806. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1811, and at the British Institution. He designed various urban improvements for London, and painted some landscapes of the Thames Valley. He died in Douglas, Isle of Man.
His paintings, typically vast landscapes and cityscapes peopled with a myriad of tiny figures, enjoyed great success. The three pictures in his triptych became famous in the years after Martin´s death and were toured throughout England and America. They were described as "The most sublime and extraordinary pictures in the world valued at 8000 guineas" - approximately 40.000 USD in today´s currency.
By the twentieth century, Martin´s work had fallen into obscurity. In 1935 the triptych was sold for seven pounds and the separate panels dispersed.
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