John Martin

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John Martin
Diogenes Throwing Away His Cup
Watercolor and opaque watercolor over graphite with scratching and selectively applied gum glaze on wove paper.
7 5/8 x 10 7/16 inches (179 x 254 mm)
Purchased on the Sunny Crawford von Bülow Fund 1978.

This watercolor is a strong example of Martin's epic approach to historical subject matter. Its protagonist is the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, who made a virtue of the simple life, begging for a living and residing in a barrel. He likened himself to a dog, hence the name of the school of thought he came to define: Cynicism (Gr. kynikos = "dog-like"). The episode depicted is the story of how he came to a pool intending to drink, using a cup. When he saw a child drinking from his hands, he realized that his way of life remained dependent on material possessions, remarking that the child had beaten him in plainness of living. He threw away his cup. Martin situates this tableau in a grandly conceived classical landscape with a fantastic projection of Athens-the Parthenon at the center-as the backdrop. Surely inspired by Nicholas Poussin's (1594-65) painting of the same subject in Louvre (c. 1647), he expands the scope of his predecessor's more austere conception of landscape in order to elicit emotional effect. Martin was known-and has alternately been appreciated and derided-for his highly dramatic interpretation of the sublime. Drawn when Martin was at the height of his fame, Diogenes Throwing Away His Cup is an example of his textured watercolor style, informed by his extensive work in printmaking. His approach, which is at once exacting and holistic, submerges a wealth of detail in a symphonic haze. Bound in gum arabic, the brilliance of the color is preserved in hard veneer.


Signed and dated on lower left recto in brush and watercolor, 'J. Martin.1833,' inscribed on lower right verso in pencil 'Diogenes meets the Rustic [?] at the stream [?]'

Private collection since the 1940s.
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