Diogenes throwing away his Cup signed and dated 'J.Martin.1833' (lower left) watercolour with scratching out, heightened with touches of gum arabic 19.5 x 26cm (7 11/16 x 10 1/4in).
PROVENANCE: Acquired by the father of the present owner in the 1940s; Thence by descent
John Martin became one of the most popular British artists of the early 19th century, producing 'sublime' scenes of Biblical catastrophe and apocalypse which provoked and challenged fellow artists, writers, architects and engineers. Later in the century, his reputation was high in America where the images and techniques of Martin contributed to the concept of the 'American sublime'. While his work fell out of favour in the early 1900s, the resurgent popularity of his art was firmly re-established by the beginning of the current century; now a major touring exhibition of John Martin's work, co-curated by Tate Britain and the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, is planned for 2011-12.
Painted in 1833, the year in which Martin was awarded the gold medal for his painting of The Fall of Nineveh at the Brussels salon, the present lot depicts the moment when Diogenes, Greek philosopher and founder of the Cynic movement in Ancient Greece, discovers a young man drinking from his hands, is seen throwing away his cup and utters the words "a child has beaten me in plainness of living".
Diogenes features in a number of paintings and engravings by and after John Martin. Martin himself made at least six versions of the subject Alexander and Diogenes1, including at least one other watercolour version of this precise subject of Diogenes throwing away his Cup2. The source for Martin's design is believed to be the famous painting by Nicolas Poussin entitled Diogenes in a landscape or Diogenes throwing away his Scoop (c.1647, Musée du Louvre, Paris) which would have been well known to Martin through the various reproductive engravings of it available at the time. Martin is known to have been a great enthusiast of Poussin's works and his own works were often linked with those of Poussin by contemporary commentators (see for example Edward Bulwer Lytton, England and the English, 1833).
The background setting for the present lot is Martin's imagined reconstruction of the ancient city of Athens, with the Parthenon standing prominent. A closely related watercolour, of very similar dimensions, which shows another of his reconstructions of ancient Athens is Epicureans in the garden of the Academy at Athens (offered at auction in 2005 under the title Figures in gardens below Athens)3. Various parts of the Parthenon had arrived in England during the first twenty years of the century and their exhibition had been hugely influential on art in this country over the following decade or so. Similar Greek-inspired temples can be found throughout Martin's works from his early compositions around 1810, through the 1820s (for example The Paphian Bower) right up until his final works such as The Last Judgement (Tate Britain).
1. Eight versions by and after Martin have been identified:-  Sepia and grey watercolour dated 1817, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Pierpont Barnard Bequest, 1934;  Diogenes Visited by Alexander, no.20, Egyptian Hall exhibition, 1822, oil, 9 x 31 1/2 in.;  watercolour, signed and dated 1824, exhibited at the Society of British Artists, 1824 (a watercolour sold by Sotheby's, 16th July 1981, lot 46 purported to be this picture);  watercolour, signed and dated 1832, at Christie's, London, 20th November 2003, lot 73 and again on 9th June 2005, lot 70 and on 5th June 2007, lot 54;  sepia watercolour, Sotheby's Olympia 10th March 2004, lot 18; watercolour, Victoria and Albert Museum, WD 69, P.71-1968;  steel line engraving by E. Finden for Friendship's Offering, London, 1827;  steel line engraving by E. Finden for The Literary Souvenir, London, 1827;  mezzotint engraving by John Martin Alexander and Diogenes c.1840-42, 19 x 28.25 inches, available through Ackermann's Print Catalogue in October 1842 (no extant impression known). 2 Anon sale, Christie's, London, 14th July 1998, lot 27. 3 Anon sale, Sotheby's, London, 30th June 2005, lot 273. The correct title is given with an accompanying illustration in the article in The Artist published in June 1901.
We are grateful to Michael Campbell for his assistance in cataloguing this lot