Enfilade

Exhibition | The World Turned Upside Down

Posted in exhibitions by internjmb on October 12, 2017

Benjamin West, Death on the Pale Horse, 1796, oil on canvas, 128.5 × 59.5 cm
(Detroit Institute of Arts)

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Now on view at the Haggerty Museum of Art:

The World Turned Upside Down: Apocalyptic Imagery in England, 1750–1850
Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, 6 October 2017 —  14 January 2018

All that can be annihilated must be annihilated
That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery.
–William Blake, Milton, ca. 1804–11

The threat of apocalyptic destruction loomed large in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England, which stood as one of the most powerful nations in the world. Cataclysmic change occurred frequently within and beyond its borders. Political upheavals, natural disasters, and new foreign adversaries led many to believe that the end was at hand. The French Revolution of 1789 in particular was widely seen as the spark of the oncoming apocalypse—whether this was a source of celebration or fear was a matter of significant debate.

At the same time, England’s artistic activity was growing significantly. The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768, and London’s art market saw exponential expansion. In this political and cultural climate, audiences were eager for subjects of destruction and terror. The rise of Romanticism, with its emphasis on the supernatural, grotesque, and terrifying, led artists to explore apocalyptic sources from the Bible to John Milton. Caricaturists couched contemporary events in the language of the apocalypse. Despite their satirical nature, these images often seem prophetic in light of the political changes to come.

The World Turned Upside Down explores the myriad ways that artists in England visualized the apocalypse in a period fraught with political, religious, economic, and cultural change. From political prints to monumental paintings, lavishly illustrated books to cheap pamphlets, apocalyptic imagery pervaded every aspect of English visual culture in this period. The diversity of artistic responses to the dramatic events of the time makes one thing clear: anxiety about the future—of one’s soul and of the English nation as a whole—was inescapable.

William Hogarth, Tailpiece, or The Bathos (detail), 1764, etching and engraving, 31.8 × 33.3 cm
(New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 

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