The Largest William Blake Exhibition In 20 Years Is Now Open In London

Georgie Hoole Georgie Hoole - EXECUTIVE EDITOR

The Largest William Blake Exhibition In 20 Years Is Now Open In London

The largest William Blake exhibition in two decades is now open at Tate Britain.

William Blake (1757–1827) is most famous for his poetry, but he was also an excellent painter and printmaker. In fact, he’s created some of the most iconic images in British art history. Tate’s huge exhibition brings together over 300 incredible works, some of which have rarely been seen. [All images, courtesy Tate]

Tate Britain displays Blake’s work in the way he intended it to be experienced. With that in mind, and for the very first time, The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan c.1805-9 and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth c.1805 have been digitally enlarged and projected onto the gallery wall on a huge scale. The original artworks are displayed nearby — reminiscent of Blake’s failed exhibition in 1809, which took place in the room above his family’s hosiery shop.

(See also: 25 awesome art exhibitions to see in London in 2019.) 

Tate has recreated this space, allowing visitors to see the paintings exactly how they were displayed two centuries ago.

Revolution, war, progressive politics and personal struggles all acted as the crucible of Blake’s distinctive imagination, and ultimately his work. Despite his grand ambitions and extraordinary skill, he struggled to be understood and appreciated by the public during his lifetime.

This exhibition provides a unique insight into his life — and there is a particular focus on London, the place he was born and lived for nearly all of his life. Tate highlights the importance of his wife Catherine, who offered both practical assistance and became and unacknowledged hand in the production of his engravings and illuminated books. There is a series of illustrations on display, which are now thought to be coloured by Catherine.

The show opens with Albion Rose c.1793, an exuberant visualisation of the mythical founding of Britain. A section of the exhibition is dedicated to his illuminated books such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience 1794; his main achievement as a radical poet.

Elsewhere you’ll find some of his best-known paintings, such as Newton 1795-c.1805 and Ghost of a Flea c.1819-20. The latter work was inspired by a séance-induced vision, and is shown alongside a rarely seen preliminary sketch.

The exhibition closes with The Ancient of Days 1827, a frontispiece for an edition of Europe: A Prophecy. The piece was finished just a few days before the artist’s death.

William Blake: The Artist is open at Tate Britain until February 2. Tickets cost £18 and are available now from the Tate website.

Also published on Medium.

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