The John Martin Pompeii Beautiful painting finally restored after 1928 Tate flood damage

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A painting considered beyond repair after being submerged in filthy floodwater when the Thames breached its banks in 1928 will be seen in something approaching its wild and lurid former glory on Tuesday when it goes on public display for the first time in a century.

After 18 months of difficult restoration, John Martin's Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum forms part of the biggest ever exhibition devoted to the apocalyptic 19th century painter.

The show's curator, Martin Myrone, said the work had been somewhat overlooked and dismissed by writers and its restoration meant "we can now see it as a really central picture in Martin's output and an extraordinarily vivid and exciting work".

After getting soaked in the Tate's worst ever flood, the work had been considered a writeoff. Not only was it flaking and dirty, it was in two parts, with a large part of the canvas, showing the volcano, missing completely.

But there was some good news when tissue was pulled away from the painting in 2010, recalled Tate's head of conservation, Patricia Smithen. "Amazingly, the surface was really intact and the figures in the foreground particularly were in really great condition. Shockingly so. It was at that point we started asking if we could undertake a restoration."

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