Everything you need to know about William Blake at Tate Britain

Everything you need to know about William Blake at Tate Britain

This autumn, Tate Britain is showing the largest survey of work by William Blake (1757-1827) in the UK for a generation. A visionary painter, printmaker and poet, Blake created some of the most iconic images in the history of British art and has remained an inspiration to artists, musicians, writers and performers across the world. This ambitious exhibition brings together over 300 remarkable pieces and is a must-see for those curious about his life and work. Here’s what you’ll see, enjoy and learn whilst visiting.

William Blake (1757-1827)
Portrait of William Blake 1802
Pencil with black, white, and grey washes
243 x 201 mm
Collection Robert N. Essick

Blake's only self-portrait

 
A self-portrait of Blake, which is thought to be the only one he ever completed, is exhibited in the UK for the first time. In the 200 years since its creation, the detailed drawing offers a unique insight into the visionary painter, print maker and poet. Created when Blake was around 45 years old, it presents an idealised likeness – his creative intensity is conveyed through a direct hypnotic gaze.

The significance of Catherine Blake

 
The exhibition acknowledges the vital presence of Blake’s wife Catherine throughout his life and work. She offered both practical assistance and became an unacknowledged hand in the production of his engravings and illuminated books. His art and poetry began to develop in original ways following their marriage in 1782 and at the time, Catharine was illiterate. She learnt to read and write with her husband and eventually in time, became a printmaker in her own right.

William Blake (1757-1827)
Catherine Blake 1805
Graphite on paper
286 x 221 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940

William Blake (1757-1827)
‘Europe’ Plate i: Frontispiece, ‘The Ancient of Days’ 1827
Etching with ink and watercolour on paper
232 x 120mm
The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

William Blake (1757-1827)
Albion Rose c. 1793
Colour engraving
250 x 211 mm
Courtesy of the Huntington Art Collections

William Blake (1757-1827)
The Ghost of a Flea c.1819
Graphite on paper
200 x 153 mm
Private Collection

William Blake (1757-1827)
Newton 1795-c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
460 x 600 mm
Tate

A collection of rare prints are reunited

 
A collection of 12 of Blake’s prints have been brought together at Tate Britain, including one of his most iconic images Newton 1975-c. Over 200 years old, these fragile works are normally only shown in small groups for short periods, meaning this is an opportunity not to be missed. The collection draws inspiration from the world of science, the Bible and Shakespeare and Milton – each piece remains open to interpretation.

William Blake’s paintings reimagined on a grand scale

 
After years of obscurity, Blake experienced a burst of creativity in the last ten years of his life. In 1818 he met a younger, business savvy artist, John Linnell. Together with fellow artists Samuel Palmer and John Varley, Linnell provided Blake employment, friendship and a new sense of recognition. Buoyed by the material and support, Blake produced some of his best work – including his most ambitious illuminated book Jerusalem. The exhibition also closes with The Ancient of Days 1827, a frontispiece for an edition of Europe: A Prophecy, completed only days before the artist’s death.
 
Blake spent his final years living in modest accommodation with Catharine in Foundation Court, off the Strand. For the younger and upcoming artists around him, he represented an ideal of creative integrity and spiritual authenticity. Their memories of him have been crucial in shaping our perceptions of the artist today.

William Blake (1757-1827)
Jerusalem, plate 28, proof impression, top design only 1820
Relief etching with pen and black ink and watercolour on medium, smooth wove paper
111 x 159 mm
Yale Center for British Art (New Haven, USA)

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