artist / participant

press release

William Blake was born in London on 28 November 1757 and Tate Britain celebrates the 250th anniversary of this event with a special display of his work. This will look at his reputation as it progresses from the description of him by Alexander Gilchrist, his first biographer, in 1863 as Unknown Painter to his world-wide reputation as poet and artist.

As part of the display, a very important group of eight, small, separate colour-printed designs, finished with watercolour, will go on public view for the first time. These works have recently come to light and were originally pulled from relief-etched copper plates used for three of Blake's illuminated books: The First Book of Urizen; The Book of Thel; and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Now in a private collection, the works, part of one of Blake’s so-called Small Book of Designs, originally appeared alongside texts in these books but in these versions, the text was masked and replaced by Blake with inscribed words beneath each image. These eight prints therefore now present us with thirteen hitherto unknown lines of his verse. They were given by Blake's widow Catherine to her unofficial executor Frederick Tatham before her death in 1831 but little is known about their history since then until recent years.

Another highlight of the display will be a very rare, early state of the large etching and line engraving The Complaint of Job. The subject, one of two which were made to commence a series of Biblical subjects he hoped to publish, was advertised in Blake's 1793 Prospectus.

The City of Westminster Archives Centre is lending a rare copy of Blake's first book of verse and prose - the Poetical Sketches, which was printed but not published in 1783 and which bears the author's own manuscript corrections to several of the poems.

The anniversary display also includes works from the Tate Collection and important loans from The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum and will feature some 70 works. It will also include a work by Arthur Boyd, Eduardo Paolozzi and Francis Bacon, each showing the direct influence of Blake.

Overlooked by many of his contemporaries, Blake was always certain that his achievement as artist, poet, prophet and visionary, would one day be properly recognised and, in the early 1920s, Tate created the first ever gallery devoted to his work. To this day a designated Blake gallery, with regularly changing displays, is a permanent feature at Tate Britain, playing a significant role in shaping the extraordinary public reputation which Blake now enjoys. A group of items from the archive of the Russian-born mosaicist Boris Anrep, who designed and made the floor in the first designated Blake gallery, is also in this display.

To coincide with the display, Tate is publishing a facsimile of the Poetical Sketches with an introduction by Robin Hamlyn, the Curator of the display. It will be available in Tate Britain Shop throughout the display priced at £7.99.

BP British Art Displays:
William Blake 250 - I still go on / Till the Heavens and Earth are gone