Posts Tagged ‘British engraving

10
May
20

Exhibition: ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 4 March – 25 May 2020

The Tate, London has temporarily closed until further notice due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

 

Frederick Evans (British, 1853-1943) 'Aubrey Beardsley [with hands]' 1893

 

Frederick Evans (British, 1853-1943)
Aubrey Beardsley [with hands]
1893
Platinum print and photogravure, mounted on opposing pages of a paper folio
Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

While working as a clerk, Beardsley spent his lunchtimes browsing in Frederick Evans’s nearby second-hand bookshop. This had an important impact on his developing artistic and literary tastes. Beardsley became close friends with Evans, who was also a talented amateur photographer. The image on the left has become known as the ‘gargoyle portrait’ because Beardsley’s pose echoes the famous carved figure on Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. This portrait was used in early editions of Beardsley’s work and has become the defining image of the artist.

 

 

There he is

There he is, all aquiline nose, patrician air; thin wrists and hands that infinity strengthens,

Mannerist hands, hands like the buttresses of some great cathedral, supporting that noble face.

There he is, this genius of invention, this suave sophisticate, this pervader of decadent beauty,

this grotesque who produced a thousand drawings in seven years, who lived a thousand lives in just seven years.

There he is, this son of Blake, this offspring of Lautrec and japonaiserie,

all primed in subtle sexualities, shocking, fame, subversion… strange.

There he is, love of yellow, flowering enormous genitalia, erotic illustrations of distorting scale, women ambiguity,

as bold as life, diseased as death, driving his body on while his mind accretes mythologies.

Now he stands, a fantastical visionary, existing as product of unchecked imagination.

An illusion, a fabrication of the mind; an unrealisable dream, a fancy,

his utopia a grotesque, chimerical beauty.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Tate Britain’s major new exhibition celebrates the brief but astonishing career of Aubrey Beardsley. Although he died tragically young at the age of just 25, Beardsley’s strange, sinuous black-and-white images have continued to shock and delight for over a century. Bringing together 200 spectacular works, this is the largest display of his original drawings in over 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at Tate since 1923.

Beardsley (1872-98) became one of the enfants terribles of fin-de-siècle London, best remembered for illustrating Oscar Wilde’s controversial play Salomé. His opulent imagery anticipated the elegance of Art Nouveau but also alighted on the subversive and erotic aspects of life and legend, shocking audiences with a bizarre sense of humour and fascination with the grotesque. Beardsley was prolific, producing hundreds of illustrations for books, periodicals and posters in a career spanning just under seven years. Line block printing enabled his distinct black-and-white works to be easily reproduced and widely circulated, winning notoriety and admirers around the world, but the original pen and ink drawings are rarely seen. Tate Britain exhibits a huge array of these drawings, revealing his unrivalled skill as a draughtsman in exquisite detail.

The exhibition highlights each of the key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career as an illustrator, notably Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur 1893-4, Wilde’s Salomé 1893 and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock 1896, of which five of the original drawings are shown together for the first time. As art director of the daring literary quarterly The Yellow Book, the artist also created seminal graphic works that came to define the decadence of the era and scandalised public opinion. Bound editions and plates are displayed alongside subsequent works from The Savoy and illustrations for Volpone 1898 and Lysistrata 1896, in which Beardsley further explored his fascination with eroticism and the absurd.

Beardsley’s imagination was fuelled by diverse cultural influences, from ancient Greek vases and Japanese woodblock prints, to illicit French literature and the Rococo. He also responded to his contemporaries such as Gustave Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones and Toulouse Lautrec, whose works are shown at Tate Britain to provide context for Beardsley’s individual mode of expression. A room in the exhibition is dedicated to portraits of Beardsley and the artist’s wider circle, presenting him at the heart of the arts scene in London in the 1890’s despite the frequent confinement of his rapidly declining health. As notorious for his complex persona as he was for his work, the artist had a preoccupation with his own image, relayed throughout the exhibition by striking self-portraits and depictions by the likes of Walter Sickert and Jacques-Emile Blanche.

Additional highlights include a selection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. Charles Bryant and Alla Nazimova’s remarkable 1923 film Salomé is also screened in a gallery adjacent to Beardsley’s illustrations, showcasing the costume and set designs they inspired. The exhibition closes with an overview of Beardsley’s legacy from Art Nouveau to the present day, including Picasso’s Portrait of Marie Derval 1901 and Klaus Voormann’s iconic artwork for the cover of Revolver 1966 by the Beatles.

Aubrey Beardsley is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, with the generous support of the V&A, private lenders and other public institutions. It is curated by Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, Curator of British Art 1850-1915, and Stephen Calloway with Alice Insley, Assistant Curator, Historic British Art.

Press release from the Tate Britain website

 

 

 

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain – Exhibition Tour | Tate

Join Tate curators Caroline Corbeau-Parsons and Alice Insley as they discuss the iconic illustrator’s short and scandalous career.

Before his untimely death aged twenty-five, Beardsley produced over a thousand illustrations. He drew everything from legendary tales featuring dragons and knights, to explicit scenes of sex and debauchery. His fearless attitude to art continues to inspire creatives more than a century after his death.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Withered Spring' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Withered Spring
1891
Graphite, ink and gouache on paper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection

 

 

The framing of the main image by ornamental panels and lettering shows the influence of aesthetic movement illustrators, as well as that of Burne-Jones. The inscription on the gate behind the figure is partly obscured. In full it would read ‘Ars Longa Vita Brevis’ (‘art is long-lasting, life is short’). As Beardsley was diagnosed with tuberculosis aged seven, this Latin saying must have had personal resonance.

 

 

Introduction

Few artists have stamped their personality so indelibly on their era as Aubrey Beardsley. He died in 1898 at the age of just 25 but had already become one of the most discussed and celebrated artists in Europe. His extraordinary black-and-white drawings were instantly recognisable. Then, as now, he seemed the quintessential figure of 1890s decadence.

At the end of the 19th century, a period that had seen vast social and technological changes, many began to fear that civilisation had reached its peak and was doomed to crumble. ‘Decadent’ artists and writers retreated into the imagination. Severing the link between art and nature, they created a new sensibility based upon self-indulgence, refinement and often a love of the bizarre. No other artist captured the danger and the beauty, the cynicism and brilliance of the age as Beardsley did with pen and ink.

Beardsley was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of seven. The disease was then incurable, so he knew from childhood that his life would be a brief one. This led him to work at a hectic pace. One contemporary described his determination ‘to fill his few working years with the immediate echo of a great notoriety’. Moving rapidly from style to style, he created well over a thousand illustrations and designs in just five years. Beardsley was catapulted to fame in 1893 by an article about his work in The Studio magazine. He went on to illustrate Oscar Wilde’s play Salome and become art editor of The Yellow Book, a periodical that came to define the era.

Beardsley’s illustrations displayed remarkable skill and versatility, but few people ever saw his actual drawings. He always drew for publication and his work was seen primarily in books and magazines. He was one of the first artists whose fame came through the easy dissemination of images, his reputation growing day by day as his sensational designs appeared.

This exhibition offers a rare chance to see many of Beardsley’s original drawings. It also sets Beardsley in his social and artistic context. Works by other artists punctuate the exhibition, showing how he absorbed diverse artistic influences but always retained his own style.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Incipit Vita Nova' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Incipit Vita Nova
1892
Graphite, ink and gouache on paper
Linda Gertner Zatlin

 

 

The title of this drawing refers to Dante Alighieri’s 1294 text La Vita Nuova and translates as ‘New Life Begins’. Some have seen the foetus as a potent symbol for Beardsley. Its significance is unclear beyond linking sexuality, life and death, all key themes in Beardsley’s work. It also reflects his fascination with shocking imagery and the grotesque, the term used traditionally to describe deliberate distortions and exaggerations of forms to create an effect of fantasy or strangeness. He once said, ‘if I am not grotesque I am nothing’.

 

 

Beginnings

Beardsley’s artistic career spanned just under seven years, between 1891 and 1898. When he was 18 he met the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, an artist he deeply admired. Having seen Beardsley’s portfolio, Burne-Jones responded: ‘I seldom or never advise anyone to take up art as a profession, but in your case I can do nothing else.’ On his recommendation, for a short time Beardsley attended classes at Westminster School of Art.

Beardsley longed for fame and recognition. This went hand in hand with an intensely cultivated self-image and pose as a dandy-aesthete. This important aspect of his identity is illuminated through self-portraits and portraits by his contemporaries throughout the exhibition.

Witty, tall, ‘spotlessly clean & well-groomed’, Beardsley was soon noted for his dandyism. A delight in refinement and artificiality in both dress and manner, dandyism was integral to the decadent creed. Some contemporaries related the artist’s extreme thinness and fragile physical appearance to ideas of morbidity also associated with decadence.

While Beardsley rejected the label of decadence, his work explores many aspects of it, such as a fascination with the ‘anti-natural’ and the bizarre, with sexual freedom and gender fluidity. What present-day society refers to as LGBTQIA+ identities were only just beginning to be formulated and articulated during his lifetime. Beardsley was attracted to women, but he was a pioneer in representing what we might now call queer desires and identities. Though fascinated by all aspects of sexuality, it seems likely that his explorations of these interests were primarily through literature and art.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Self-portrait' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Self-portrait
1892
Ink on paper
British Museum
Presented by Robert Ross in 1906

 

 

Apart from a few childish sketches, this is Beardsley’s first recorded self-portrait, made at the age of about 19. His newly adopted centre-parted fringe, fashionable high collar and large bow tie show that he had already formed a distinctive self-image. A few months earlier, he had described himself as having ‘a vile constitution, a sallow face and sunken eyes’.

 

Russell & Sons. 'Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley' c. 1893?

 

Russell & Sons (Photographers)
Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley
c. 1893?
Cartes de visite / cabinet card
Albumen print

Please note: This photograph is not in the exhibition

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Finding of Medusa; The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor); Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa; The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor); Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

This design forms part of Burne-Jones’s ambitious scheme for a series of large wall decorations on the theme of Perseus. Although the work was never completed as he intended, Burne-Jones still proudly displayed ten full-scale preparatory drawings for the panels in his garden studio. They must have made a strong impression on Beardsley when he visited Burne-Jones in August 1891.

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Finding of Medusa' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor)' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor)
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Perseus eventually discovers Medusa with her sisters, the Gorgons. Unlike her they are all immortal. Using Athena’s mirror to defend himself, Perseus beheads Medusa, at which point the winged horse Pegasus and the warrior Chrysaor spring from her decapitated body. When the Gorgons attempt to punish Perseus for killing their sister, he evades them by using the helmet given to him by the sea nymphs, thus becoming invisible.

Gallery label, June 1993

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'The Litany of Mary Magdalen' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
The Litany of Mary Magdalen
1891
Graphite on cream wove paper laid down on board
227 × 169 mm
The Art Institute of Chicago, The Charles Deering Collection
Public domain

 

 

The Italian painter Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506) was a key reference for both Burne-Jones and Beardsley. At Burne-Jones’s suggestion, Beardsley particularly studied the early engravings after Mantegna’s designs. Throughout his life Beardsley kept a set of reproductions of these prints pinned to his wall. In this subject of his own invention, he freely borrows details of costume, pose and gesture from figures in various of Mantegna’s works, particularly The Entombment (c. 1465-70).

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, c.  1431-1506) 'The Entombment of Christ' c. 1465-75

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, c.  1431-1506)
The Entombment of Christ
c. 1465-75
Engraving and drypoint; second state of two
11 7/16 × 16 3/8 in. (29 × 41.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937
Public domain

Please note: This engraving is not in the exhibition

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Tannhäuser' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Tannhäuser
1891
Ink, wash and gouache on paper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection
Public domain

 

 

Beardsley was an avid opera-goer. He attended several performances of Wagner’s works at this time, including Tannhäuser at Covent Garden in April or May 1891. He would return to Wagnerian subjects many times in his art and writings. The story of Tannhäuser was a particular favourite. He later made it the subject of his own erotic novella The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser. Here he shows the knight in pilgrim’s robes, among trees that appear like prison bars, trying to find his way back to the goddess’s enchanted realm, the Venusberg.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Die Götterdämmerung' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Die Götterdämmerung
1892
Ink, wash and gouache on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University

 

 

Beardsley took this subject from Wagner’s opera, the title of which translates as ‘The Twilight of the Gods’. It has been suggested that the frieze-like composition depicts three different moments of the story. According to this interpretation, the scene to the right refers to the prologue, showing the Fates, with the bearded Wotan holding his magic spear. He also appears seated at the centre of the composition with Siegfried standing by him to tell his story to a group of hunters. Finally, Wotan may be represented again seated, in profile, wearing his Wanderer’s hat.

 

Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), is the last in Richard Wagner’s cycle of four music dramas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, or The Ring for short). It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of the Ring.

Die Götterdämmerung,” notes Emma Sutton in Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (2002), “Beardsley’s only drawing of the concluding part of the Ring cycle, was probably prompted by the first performance for a decade of the Ring in London in June and July 1892. It is extremely likely that he attended a performance of the drama; he certainly attended Siegfried, and produced drawings on Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and of the principle singers, in this year.

No interpretation of the drawing has, to my knowledge, ever been offered, perhaps because its stylistics might suggest that it is an incomplete or experimental, Impressionistic work. The drawing is, however, an intricate and highly knowledgeable representation of Wagner’s work, demonstrating Beardsley’s comprehensive knowledge of Die Götterdämmerung (and, indeed, of the whole cycle) from the very start of the decade. Beardsley presents the gods shrouded in long drapes in a bleak forest setting; with their elongated limbs and enveloping robes they appear androgynous figures, listless and melancholy, entrapped by the sharp bare stems that rise from the border and ground around them.

Despite the undulating lines of the landscape, Die Gotterdammerung is a scene of desolate stasis, bleakly portraying Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods. A compression of several scenes from Wagner’s drama, the drawing is, I would suggest, an extraordinarily innovative and ambitious attempt to evoke concisely the narrative events and cumulative tone of the entire drama.”

~ Emma Sutton, Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (2002)

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Anonymous. “Aubrey Beardsley’s “Die Götterdämmerung”,” on the Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton website [Online] Cited 02/03/2020

 

Le Morte Darthur

In early 1892, Beardsley received his first major commission. His friend, the photographer and bookseller Frederick H. Evans, introduced him to J.M. Dent. The energetic and enterprising publisher was looking for an illustrator for Le Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century version of the legends of King Arthur. Dent planned a substantial edition in the style of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press books. Between autumn 1892 and June 1894 Beardsley produced 353 drawings, including full and double-page illustrations, elaborate border designs and numerous small-scale ornamental chapter headings. He received £250 over the course of this commission. This freed him to leave his hated job as a clerk and focus on art-making.

Beardsley gradually grew weary of this colossal undertaking and went off-brief. Subversive details started to appear in his drawings. He also introduced incongruous characters such as mermaids and satyrs, goat-legged hybrid creatures from classical mythology.

His illustrations were reproduced using the relatively new and economical line block printing process in which drawings are transferred onto printing plates photographically. Beardsley was at first disappointed with the printing of his drawings, but he quickly adapted his style to suit the line block process. Uniquely, this could reproduce both the finest of lines and large, flat areas of black.

The works in this room demonstrate the development of Beardsley’s art over two years, and how he combined many different sources to create his own visual language.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'The Achieving of the Sangreal' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
The Achieving of the Sangreal
1892
Ink and wash on paper
Private collection

 

 

This is the sample drawing that secured Beardsley the Morte Darthur commission. Dent declared it ‘a masterpiece’, and it was used as the frontispiece for Volume II. It seems to refer to the crucial episode of the book, in Chapter XIV, where Sir Percival kneels to make a prayer to Jesus in the presence of Sir Ector, and the Sangreal (popularly called the Holy Grail) appears to him, ‘borne by a maiden’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How Morgan Le Fay Gave a Shield to Sir Tristram' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How Morgan Le Fay Gave a Shield to Sir Tristram
1893
Ink on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

(Illustration from: Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur. London: Dent, 1894)

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How la Beale Isoud Wrote to Sir Tristram' c. 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How la Beale Isoud Wrote to Sir Tristram
c. 1893
Ink over graphite on paper
Alessandra and Simon Wilson

 

 

This drawing brings to mind the comment by the art historian John Rothenstein that ‘the greatest among Beardsley’s gifts was his power of assimilating every influence and yet retaining, nay developing, his own peculiar individuality’.

Isoud (Isolde) here resembles the Pre-Raphaelite figure Jane Morris. The German Renaissance form of her desk is borrowed from Albrecht Dürer’s engraving St Jerome in his Study (1513-14). The simple, flattened construction of the space reflects Beardsley’s interest in Japanese prints. These contrast with the flowing lines of the sunflower border, a typical aesthetic motif.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink
1893
Ink on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

This is one of Beardsley’s boldest and most rhythmic drawings. Tristram’s outstretched arm follows the movement of the hybrid flower. The flat outline of Isolde’s recoiling body parallels that of Tristram’s cloak, all against the strong vertical and horizontal lines formed by the curtains with their stylised rose border. Isolde’s long cape, seen from the back, is a forerunner of Beardsley’s famous Peacock Skirt in his Salome illustrations (on display later in this exhibition).

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How La Beale Isoud Nursed Sir Tristram' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How La Beale Isoud Nursed Sir Tristram
1893
Ink over graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How King Arthur saw the Questing Beast, and thereof had great marvel' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How King Arthur saw the Questing Beast, and thereof had great marvel
1893
Ink and wash on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Together with Siegfried Act II (shown nearby), this drawing reflects the height of Beardsley’s fine ‘hair-line manner’. The drawing has great variety of treatment, showing that Beardsley’s style evolved while working on the commission. To alleviate boredom, he took great liberties with Malory’s text. He introduced mythological characters with little to do with the Arthurian legend, such as Pan, here. There are also discreet additions, including a treble clef top right, and even a phallus on the far left of the bank.

 

 

Something suggestive of Japan

The European craze for Japanese visual culture had begun in the 1860s after trade links were re-established. Beardsley grew up surrounded by western interpretations of Japanese art. In the summer of 1891, together with his sister Mabel, he visited the London mansion of the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland. There he saw the ‘Peacock Room’ created 15 years earlier by the expatriate North American artist James McNeill Whistler. Decorated with borrowed and reworked Japanese motifs, this masterpiece of the aesthetic movement had become one of the most celebrated interiors in London. Mesmerised by his visit, Beardsley began to introduce such details into his own drawings.

Japanese woodblock prints (Ukiyo-e) were also an important influence. Beardsley adopted their graphic conventions. His new style included areas of flat pattern contrasted with precisely drawn figures against abstracted or empty backgrounds. Like several artists at this time, he also favoured the distinctive, tall and narrow format of traditional Japanese kakemono scrolls.

In a letter to a friend, Beardsley bragged, ‘I struck for myself an entirely new method of drawing and composition, something suggestive of Japan… The subjects were quite mad and a little indecent.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) Design for a Frontispiece to 'Virgilius the Sorcerer' c. 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Design for a Frontispiece to Virgilius the Sorcerer
c. 1893
Ink over graphite on paper laid down on board
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Robert Allerton

 

 

Following the glowing article in The Studio, many publishers approached Beardsley with commissions for illustrations and book covers. David Nutt, an old established publishing firm, generally specialised in early texts and folklore. Although made for Nutt’s ‘medieval legends’ series, Beardsley’s design is, somewhat incongruously, in the style of a Japanese print.

 

 

A New Illustrator

Beardsley first came to public notice in April 1893. He was the subject of the lead article, ‘A New Illustrator’, in the first issue of the new art magazine The Studio. In it, the graphic art expert Joseph Pennell praised Beardsley’s work as ‘quite as remarkable in its execution as in its invention: a very rare combination.’

Pennell welcomed Beardsley’s use of ‘mechanical reproduction for the publication of his drawings’. The article highlighted how photographic line block printing showed the true quality of an artist’s line.

The reproductions in The Studio article included both medieval and Pre-Raphaelite style illustrations for the forthcoming Le Morte Darthur and examples of Beardsley’s work inspired by Japanese woodblock prints. This displayed his versatility and led to further commissions for books and popular journals, such as the Pall Mall Magazine. J.M. Dent, the publisher of Le Morte Darthur, rightly worried Beardsley would get bored of that long-term project. To keep him interested, he invited him to create hundreds of tiny ‘grotesque’ illustrations for the Bon-Mots series, three miniature books of witty sayings. In this context, the term grotesque relates to distortion or exaggeration of form to create an effect of fantasy or strangeness. For Beardsley the idea was central to his way of seeing the world. Summing up his own art, he later said, ‘I am nothing if I am not grotesque.’

 

Grotesque

In art history, the grotesque – which originally referred to the decoration of grottoes – has come to denote a strand of Renaissance art composed of deliberately weird elements, often including imaginary hybrid forms. These often combine parts of human heads and bodies, animals and plants. Mermaids, satyrs, fauns and other mythical figures frequently appear in Beardsley’s art. But he also added foetuses, often with adult bodies, and other distorted figures to his grotesque repertoire. The resulting imagery is playful, irreverent and fantastical, but also has dark undertones. The grotesque lies at the heart of Beardsley’s art. He explained: ‘I see everything in a grotesque way. When I go to the theatre, for example, things shape themselves before my eyes just as a I draw them… They all seem weird and strange to me. Things have always impressed me in this way.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Kiss of Judas' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Kiss of Judas
1893
Ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This drawing illustrates a short story by ‘X.L’ (the North American writer of horror fiction Julian Osgood Field). The macabre tale tells of a legend of the descendants of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus in the Christian New Testament. It is written with the arch tone of much 1890s fiction:

‘They say that the children of Judas, lineal descendants of the arch traitor, are prowling about the world, seeking to do harm, and that they will kill you with a kiss.’ ‘Oh, how delightful!’ murmured the Dowager Duchess.

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Smaller figures appear in many of Beardsley’s works, such as the nude in The Kiss of Judas. Some viewers have read these as representations of people with dwarfism. In most cases we do not know if this was Beardsley’s intention. He never strived for realism in his work. He played with scale, exaggerating and distorting lines and shapes, including in self-portraits. But the cultural stereotyping of people with dwarfism was prevalent in Beardsley’s lifetime. In the late 19th and early 20th century, they were predominantly seen as sources of entertainment in ‘freak shows’ and carnivals. These offensive attitudes almost certainly influenced Beardsley’s imagery to some extent.

 

 

Salomé

In 1892, Beardsley made a drawing in response to Salomé, Oscar Wilde’s play, originally written in French and based on the biblical story. Salomé falls in love with Iokanaan (John the Baptist). When he rejects her, she demands his head from her step-father, Herod Antipas, as a reward for performing the dance of the seven veils. Beardsley depicts her about to kiss Iokanaan’s severed head. Wilde admired the drawing and he and his publisher, John Lane, chose Beardsley to illustrate the English translation of the play. The illustrations weave together themes of sensuality and death, and explore a wide range of sexual desires. The play’s publication created a sensation, just as Beardsley and Wilde had hoped.

Beardsley delighted in hiding provocative elements in his drawings. Lane recalled, ‘one had, so to speak, to place his drawings under a microscope, and look at them upside down’. Nervously, he censored ‘problematic’ details in Beardsley’s title page and the illustration Enter Herodias and rejected two designs altogether from the first edition. Even so, Lane missed many erotic details and, surprisingly, also allowed publication of Beardsley’s teasing drawings that include caricatures of Wilde.

Beardsley produced 18 designs in total, of which only 10 appeared in the first printing of the play. The impressions exhibited here come from the portfolio which Lane issued in 1907, almost a decade after Beardsley’s death. This was the first edition to contain all the original designs and an additional one, Salome on Settle.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Climax' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Climax
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

The flowing, sinuous lines in this design demonstrate how much art nouveau is indebted to Beardsley. He abandoned the Japanese kakemono format and hairline style of his original version of the image J’ai baisé ta bouche, Iokanaan (also in this room). By simplifying the lines of the design, he creates a more powerful focus on the moment when Salome can finally kiss Jokanaan’s lips – now that he has been beheaded. The stream of blood forms an elegant ribbon, while the lily rising from the pool that the fluid creates symbolises his chastity.

 

 

The Climax

The Climax is an 1893 illustration by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), a leading artist of the Decadent (1880-1900) and Aesthetic movements. It depicts a scene from Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, in which the femme fatale Salome has just kissed the severed head of John the Baptist, which she grasps in her hands. Elements of eroticism, symbolism, and Orientalism are present in the piece. This illustration is one of sixteen Wilde commissioned Beardsley to create for the publication of the play. The series is considered to be Beardsley’s most celebrated work, created at the age of 21. …

First published in 1894, The Climax consists of strong, precise lines, decorative motifs characteristic of the developing Art Nouveau style, and the use of only black ink. Beardsley’s style was influenced by Japanese woodcuts also known as Ukiyo-e, which comes through in the flatness of imagery, compositional arrangement, and the stylistic motifs. Elements of eroticism are also apparent.

The main focus of this illustration, Salome, floats in midair and in her hands she holds the head of John the Baptist just after she kissed it, depicting the final words said by Salome in the play “J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan, j’ai baisé ta bouche” (“I have kissed your mouth, Jokannan, I have kissed your mouth”). Her hair billows in snake-like tendrils above her as she stares powerfully into the eyes of John the Baptist. His severed head drips blood that nourishes the phallic lily. The flower also symbolises purity. Composing the background behind these two figures is a white quarter section of the moon and a stylised depiction of peacock feathers, a signature motif in Beardsley’s illustrations, made of concentric circles.

Beardsley satirised Victorian values regarding sex, that at the time highly valued respectability, and men’s fear of female superiority, as the women’s movement made gains in economic rights and occupational and educational opportunities by the 1880s. Salome’s power over men can be seen in the way that Beardsley presents her as a monster-like figure, reminiscent of Medusa.

 

Reaction

Beardsley said of his drawing that rather than using thicker lines for the foreground than those for the background, he felt that the lines should be the same width. Morgan Meis of The New Yorker states that “his influence on the look of Art Nouveau, and then on early modernism, is hard to overstate. His thick black lines fused the graphical ideas of the past with the techniques and subject matter of a new age just on the horizon.” He was an inspiration to Japanese illustrators, graphic designers, and printmakers of the early 20th century Taishō period.

The Climax is described as among his finest works by Ian Fletcher and established him as one of the “Decadence”. It was not appreciated, though, by mainstream art critics of the time, who found the Salome drawings repulsive and unintelligible. Art historian Kenneth Clark said that it “aroused more horror and indignation than any graphic work hitherto produced in England.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Dancer’s Reward' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Dancer’s Reward
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Salome is contemplating her prize. Gaping, she tilts Jokanaan’s severed and bleeding head towards her. Once again, their expressions mirror each other. The elongated arm of the executioner holds up the platter on which the head rests. This drawing resonates with European symbolist art, in which the contemplation of a severed head is a recurring image.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Toilette of Salome' (second version) 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Toilette of Salome (second version)
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Stomach Dance' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Stomach Dance
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Salome is shown performing her celebrated dance to the sounds produced by an impish musician. Wilde wrote appreciatively to Beardsley after Salome was published: ‘For Aubrey: for the only artist who, besides myself, knows what the dance of the seven veils is, and can see that invisible dance.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Eyes of Herod' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Eyes of Herod
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This illustrates the passage before Salome’s famous dance in exchange for the head of Jokanaan. Talking about Herod, Salome remarks pensively: ‘Why does the Tetrarch look at me all the while with his mole’s eyes under his shaking eyelids? It is strange that the husband of my mother looks at me like that. I know not what it means. Of a truth I know it too well.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Enter Herodias' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Enter Herodias
1893 (published 1907)
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Enter Herodias is named after a stage direction in Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé. Wilde originally wrote the play in French, and he chose Beardsley to illustrate the English translation of the play. Beardsley drew erotic and satirical images, some of which were entirely unrelated to the plot of play.

Enter Herodias shows the moment when Salome’s mother enters the stage. To the bottom right there is a caricature of Oscar Wilde holding a copy of Salome and gesturing up at his own play. It also includes two nude figures. Herodias’s breasts are exposed but she is covered by the large cloak. John Lane, who was Beardsley’s publisher, demanded that Beardsley cover the page on the right’s genitalia with a fig-leaf. But he failed to spot the penis-shaped candles the artist had drawn in the foreground, and the erection of the figure to the left.

Beardsley’s obsession with the erotic played upon Victorian taboos. Beardsley was often deliberately trying to be provocative. Many people at the time thought that Beardsley’s obsession with erotic art came from the fact that he was young and ‘consumptive’. Today we call ‘consumption’ Tuberculosis (or TB). A strange, but frequent 19th century perception of TB was that it went hand in hand with an obsession about sex.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'John and Salome' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
John and Salome
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This depicts a scene of powerful tension between Jokanaan (left) and Salome (right). By the use of mirrored poses and interlocking folds of drapery – like an image of yin and yang – he expresses the characters’ conflicted feelings of attraction and rejection. John Lane refused the design, either because of the partial nudity of Salome, or possibly because of the androgynous appearance of the Baptist who could here be Salome’s twin.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Black Cape' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Black Cape
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Peacock Skirt' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Peacock Skirt
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This is one of Beardsley’s most famous and acclaimed designs. It conflates two scenes from the play. In one, the page of Herodias warns the young Syrian about looking too much at Salome. In the other, Herod promises 50 of his white peacocks in exchange for Salome’s dance and imagines them forming a ‘great white cloud’ around her. The scene was abstracted by Beardsley in a flamboyant demonstration of his calligraphic skills.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan' 1892-3

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan
1892-3
Ink and wash on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University

 

 

This is Beardsley’s first interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s play, before it was translated into English. It was reproduced in the first issue of The Studio, and it is characteristic of Beardsley’s intricate hairline style. It may well have been a bid to illustrate the play. If it was, it paid off, as Wilde did ask John Lane to commission Beardsley. The artist applied some green watercolour to the drawing after it was published.

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The apparition' 1874-76 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Apparition (detail)
1874-6
Watercolour on paper
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, gift of Charles Ayem

 

 

This watercolour made a strong impression on Oscar Wilde at the 1876 Paris Salon exhibition. It represents the bloody vision of John the Baptist’s head appearing while Salomé dances for Herod. It featured in Joris-Karl Huysmans’s 1884 novel À Rebours (Against Nature). In it, the reclusive hero contemplates this watercolour. Wilde could quote at length from this ‘bible’ of decadence. Both the novel and The Apparition played a part in the creation of Wilde’s own Salomé.

 

 

Alla Nazimova (1879-1945)
Charles Bryant (1879-1948)
Salomé
1923
Film, 35 mm, black and white
Running time: 1hr 12mins
Sets and costumes by Natacha Rambova, after Aubrey Beardsley

 

This 1923 silent “Salome” is probably the best filmed version of the scandalous Oscar Wilde one-act play. It’s basically a photographed avant-garde theatre production performed on a single set based on Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for the published play.

 

 

Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

This 1923 silent film is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play. The imaginative set and costumes by Natacha Rambova are directly inspired by Beardsley’s drawings, and credited as such. The project was conceived and led by Alla Nazimova, a famous Hollywood actor during the silent movie era. She was drawn to Salome and financed its screen adaptation herself. Nazimova had relationships with women and her film reflects themes of same-sex desire present in Beardsley’s drawings. Charles Bryant, with whom she pretended to be married, was credited as the director, as women did not have equal status in Hollywood.

This film perpetuates some demeaning stereotypes that were current during Beardsley’s lifetime and beyond. This is reflected particularly in the portrayal of the musicians with dwarfism. At that time people with restricted growth were widely associated with servitude and treated as a source of spectacle.

 

 

Posters

When Beardsley first travelled to Paris in 1892, he was enthralled by the many posters that adorned the city. The French posters showed the possibilities of this new mass-produced outdoor format and the potential of large-scale colour reproduction. Beardsley was quick to embrace this. Understanding that posters would be viewed in passing, often at a distance, his designs experimented with bold, simplified forms and solid blocks of colour. For Beardsley, advertising was central to modern life and an opportunity to integrate art into everyday experience. As he put it, ‘Beauty has laid siege to the city’.

In the autumn of 1894, the first ever English exhibition of posters opened in London. Pictorial posters were enjoying a boom in Britain and were beginning to be recognised as an art form. The exhibition featured work by celebrated French artists such as Jules Chéret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, known as the ‘fathers’ of the modern poster. Significantly, it also included several works by Beardsley. Not only did this place Beardsley’s posters on a par with the art that had inspired him, it also attested to his importance in the development of British poster design.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901) Divan Japonais 1892

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901)
Divan Japonais
1892
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

In Paris, Beardsley would have encountered Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters, including this one, on hoardings across the city. It advertises the popular cabaret nightspot, the Divan Japonais, and depicts two stars of Parisian nightlife, the singer Yvette Guilbert and the dancer Jane Avril. Beardsley was inspired as much by Toulouse-Lautrec’s vivid portrayal of modern life as his striking style, typified by dramatic blocks of colour, silhouettes and bold outlines. The admiration was mutual: Toulouse-Lautrec also expressed the wish to buy a copy of Salome.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Pseudonym and Autonym Libraries' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Pseudonym and Autonym Libraries
1894
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This poster shares its title with the series of novels and short story collections it promotes. The name was inspired by the publisher, T. Fisher Unwin’s, recognition that women often wrote under a pseudonym, whereas men used their actual name (autonym). The woman pictured here appears confident as she rushes towards the bookshop, implying that knowledge brings freedom.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Isolde' Printed 1899

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Isolde
Printed 1899
Colour lithograph and line block print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Turning again to Wagner for inspiration, Beardsley depicts the tragic heroine, Isolde, on the brink of drinking the fateful love potion. She stands against a stage curtain, bright red in the original design and equally bold in the orange used for this first printing. Beardsley asserted, ‘I have no great care for colour, but [in posters] colour is essential’. This design was published as a colour lithograph supplement in The Studio in October 1895.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'A Comedy of Sighs' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
A Comedy of Sighs
1894
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This was Beardsley’s first poster design. It appeared on walls and hoardings around London shortly after the publication of Salome and introduced his art to an even wider audience. The poster stole the limelight from the performances of the two short plays it advertised. Critics were outraged by the woman’s ‘ugliness’ and the indecency of her plunging neckline. Punch magazine even punned, ‘Let’s “Ave-a-nue” Poster!’

 

 

Beardsley’s Circle

This room introduces the key figures in Beardsley’s life. The glowing article in The Studio and his success with Le Morte Darthur had brought him into the public eye at the age of 20. Following this, a sequence of fortuitous meetings with leading cultural figures of the day led him to the heart of avant-garde literary and artistic circles in 1890s London. Witty, talented and well-read, he was rapidly taken up by a group of young artists and writers who identified as aesthetes, acutely sensitive to art and beauty. These included the portrait painter William Rothenstein; Max Beerbohm, the essayist and caricaturist; and the art critic and dealer Robert Ross, the friend and former lover of Oscar Wilde. Beardsley’s fame grew with the publication of his illustrations to Wilde’s Salome in 1894 and his involvement in the fashionable magazine The Yellow Book, a period addressed in the following room. At this point his group of friends began to expand rapidly. But with the fall of Wilde early in 1895, Beardsley moved first to Dieppe, and thereafter spent little time in England.

In his last years his circle included fellow contributors to The Savoy magazine: the poets W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symons and the painter Charles Conder. The wealthy French-Russian poet and writer Marc-André Raffalovich became an important supporter and patron. His most significant friend in this period was Leonard Smithers, his endearing but unscrupulous publisher.

His mother and sister Mabel were constants throughout his brief life. They were with him when he died at Menton on the French Riviera in 1898.

This room nods at Beardsley’s orange and black decoration scheme in the Pimlico house that he and Mabel owned briefly in 1894. ‘Orangé’ was famously described as the chief decadent colour by Joris-Karl Huysmans in his 1884 novel À rebours (Against Nature), which may have informed Beardsley’s choice.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Professor Fred Brown' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Professor Fred Brown
1892
Graphite and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by Mrs Helen Thorp 1927

 

 

In 1891 Beardsley enrolled at the Westminster School of Art on the advice of Edward Burne-Jones. For just a few months he attended evening classes given by the school’s principal, the painter Fred Brown. Brown was a pillar of the avant-garde exhibiting society, the New English Art Club. Beardsley added the society’s initials to Brown’s name in the title of this drawing.

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942) 'Charles Conder' 1904

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942)
Charles Conder
1904
Oil paint on canvas

Tate, Presented by Georges A. Mevil-Blanche 1947

 

 

Conder specialised in painting fans and small pictures on silk depicting romanticised figures in 18th-century costume. He and Beardsley became close during the planning of The Savoy magazine in the summer of 1895 when many of their circle were gathered in Dieppe.

Jacques-Emile Blanche lived near Dieppe and was a friend of Degas, Manet and Renoir. However, he also made frequent visits to England, where he painted and exhibited and was well known in artistic and society circles. This is a portrait of the British painter Charles Conder (1868-1909), who was greatly interested in contemporary French art. Conder befriended Toulouse-Lautrec who helped him obtain an exhibition in Paris. Blanche first met Conder in Paris, but they became friends in 1895 when they both spent the summer in Dieppe. This portrait, which captures his flamboyant character, was painted in Conder’s house in London.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1895

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1895
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

The society painter Blanche welcomed many of the English artists and writers who visited Dieppe to his nearby family home. This portrait, painted during the summer of 1895, shows the extent to which Beardsley had adopted the dress and cultivated the manner of Parisian dandies such as Comte Robert de Montesquiou.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1894
Tempera on canvas
Tate, Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1932

 

 

Sickert observed Beardsley in Hampstead churchyard following a ceremony for the unveiling of a bust commemorating the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821). Though angular and painfully thin, he was elegantly dressed as always. Keats had died young from tuberculosis. The parallel between the poet and the artist cannot have been lost on those friends, like Sickert, who knew of Beardsley’s condition.

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (English, born America 1882-1966) 'W.B. Yeats' 1908

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (English, born America 1882-1966)
W.B. Yeats
1908
Photo-etching on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Yeats was a leading figure of the Irish poetic and nationalist movement, the ‘Celtic Twilight’. He was also central as an activist in London literary circles. The idea of the poets, writers and artists of the 1890s as sensitive, decadent and doomed owes much to Yeats’s myth-making in his later memoirs. In these he painted a compelling picture of ‘The Tragic Generation’.

 

William Rothenstein (British, 1872-1945) 'Robbie Ross' 1895-1930

 

William Rothenstein (British, 1872-1945)
Robbie Ross
1895-1930
Oil on canvas
13 1/8 in. x 10 in. (333 mm x 254 mm)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 2005
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

The writer and art critic Robert Ross was a pivotal figure in the aesthetic and decadent culture of 1890s London. He was Oscar Wilde’s first male lover and later became his literary executor, working tirelessly to safeguard his works and re-establish his reputation. Ross also used his connections and influence to promote and protect many friends, including Beardsley and his family. His 1909 book on Beardsley was one of the first serious studies and remains a valuable source of insights.

 

Reginald Savage (British, 1886-1932) 'John Gray' c. 1896-7

 

Reginald Savage (British, 1886-1932)
John Gray
c. 1896-7
Lithograph on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

As a young poet John Gray was initially a protégé of Oscar Wilde. He later moved away from the decadents and converted to Catholicism. He was ordained in 1901 and served for many years as the priest at St Peter’s Morningside, Edinburgh. The church was built by his lifelong companion Marc-André Raffalovich, a wealthy writer who provided Beardsley’s principal financial support in his last years.

 

 

The Yellow Book

In 1894, Beardsley became art editor of The Yellow Book, a magazine that would become the most iconic publication of the decade. Its distinctive appearance immediately set the tone. Yellow was fashionable, urban, ironic and risqué, recalling the yellow wrappers of popular French erotic novels. The first volume was an instant and controversial success. Notably, it put art and literature on an equal footing. But it was Beardsley’s drawings that stole the show and gave the magazine its avant-garde reputation. Their bold style and daring modernity received praise and scorn in equal measure. With each new volume, his notoriety increased. To many the publication embodied the decadent spirit, and, as one critic observed, ‘to most, Aubrey Beardsley is The Yellow Book.

However, Beardsley’s meteoric success was short-lived. In 1895, Oscar Wilde was put on trial for sexual relationships with men and prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’. As the scandal tore through London, the backlash turned towards the notorious magazine and its audacious art editor. In the public mind, Beardsley was already connected to Wilde through his Salome illustrations. When Wilde was seen at his arrest carrying a yellow book (in fact a French novel, not The Yellow Book), the link between the author and the artist was damning. Outraged crowds broke the windows of the publishing house. John Lane, the publisher, succumbed to pressure and sacked Beardsley.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Cover Design for 'The Yellow Book'' Vol.I 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Cover Design for The Yellow Book Vol.I
1894
Ink on paper
Tate. Bequeathed by John Lane 1926

 

 

Beardsley instantly set the tone for the magazine with this design for the first volume. His highly stylised manner, dramatically setting pure white against flat black, was completely new. The subject, two masked revellers abandoning themselves to hedonism, was also bold. The overt sensuality of the laughing woman was particularly shocking for the time. Oscar Wilde described her as ‘a terrible naked harlot’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Yellow Book' Volume I 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Henry Harland 1861-1905 (literature)
The Yellow Book, Volume I
1894
Elkin Mathews & John Lane, London April 1894
Stephen Calloway

 

 

In 1894 Aubrey Beardsley became the first Art Editor for The Yellow Book, a new literary periodical. There were hostile reactions to The Yellow Book from the wider press, who were alarmed by the shocking and ‘immoral’ illustrations and writing. The Westminster Gazette even commented that the publication should be made illegal. Things only got worse for Beardsley and The Yellow Book in 1895. The trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde for ‘gross indecency’ with men became linked to the publication. The press mistakenly reported seeing Wilde leaving the Cadogan Hotel with a copy of The Yellow Book under his arm. In fact, he was carrying a French erotic novel, which often had yellow covers.

Beardsley, who had collaborated with Wilde on Salome and whose art was strongly linked with The Yellow Book, was caught up in the scandal. He was dismissed as editor for The Yellow Book. Having lost his regular source of income, he was forced to sell his house and he temporarily moved to France.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Slippers of Cinderella' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Slippers of Cinderella
1894
Ink and watercolour on paper
Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press

 

 

This is one of the rare drawings in which Beardsley used colour. It was first printed in black and white as he added the watercolour later. When it was published in the second volume of The Yellow Book, it was accompanied by a caption, probably written by the artist himself. This outlined a darker version of the Cinderella story, in which she is poisoned by powdered glass from her own slippers.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'La Dame aux Camélias' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
La Dame aux Camélias
1894
Ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by Colonel James Lister Melvill at the request of his brother, Harry Edward Melvill 1931

 

 

Beardsley was fascinated with the depiction of women at their dressing-tables. Here, the woman gazing into the mirror is the tragic heroine of the novel La Dame aux Camélias (1848), by French writer Alexandre Dumas. Beardsley may have identified with her because she, like him, had tuberculosis. He added washes of watercolour to the drawing between 1894 and 1897, after it had been published in The Yellow Book.

The title refers to the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, published in 1852, which tells the tragic story of a courtesan who sacrificed herself for her lover. The picture is part of a group of drawings of a woman at her dressing table and was originally published simply as Girl at Her Toilet. It is not clear whether Beardsley intended it from the outset to be a portrait of Madeleine Gautier, but it appears to relate to an earlier drawing of 1890, which is inscribed with the title of Dumas’s novel and bears some resemblance to this work in the silhouetted figure and treatment of the draperies. Beardsley may have identified with Madeleine Gautier, since, like her, he suffered from tuberculosis and would eventually also die of the disease.

The leitmotif of a woman admiring herself in a mirror recalls the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), which Beardsley would have known. He may also have had in mind the work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), who devoted much of his later career to pictures of woman at their toilet. Like many of Beardsley’s drawings of this period the picture is highly stylised. A solid black mass envelops the lower half of the room and seems about to consume the figure. Her arms have disappeared altogether, and her face is barely revealed above the extravagant collar of her frilly overcoat. The influence of Japanese woodcuts, which Beardsley collected, is apparent in the broad flat areas of colour and the use of silhouette. The most carefully realised passages in the drawing are the objects on the dressing table and the floral pattern of the wallpaper, which depicts either roses or camellias. The woman’s profile reveals dark shadows under the narrowed eyes and a turned down mouth, giving the impression of either illness or dissipation. However, in general, realism and individuality are suppressed in favour of surface pattern and overall design.

The drawing was first published in the journal St Paul’s on 2 April 1894, and at the time it was one of Beardsley’s most popular works. Six months later it was illustrated with the present title in Volume Three of The Yellow Book, an avant-garde journal of which Beardsley was art editor. Between 1894 and 1897 Beardsley added watercolour washes of pinkish-purple to the drawing, reducing the clarity of the image.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Black Cat' 1894-5

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Black Cat
1894-5
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Commissioned by a North American publisher, Beardsley made four designs for the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). This illustrates Poe’s story of a man who tries to cover up the murder of his wife by concealing her body in the wall. He is betrayed by the shrieks of his black cat, mistakenly enclosed in the wall as well. The fearsome cat appears out of the darkness, its form outlined in white and starkly contrasting with the white of the dead woman’s face.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Frontispiece to Chopin’s Third Ballade' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Frontispiece to Chopin’s Third Ballade
1895
Ink and wash on paper
Tate. Presented by the Patrons of British Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1999
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

The Polish composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) was one of Beardsley’s musical heroes. Beardsley emphasises his delicately pointed fingers here. This relates to Chopin’s reputation as a powerful and subtle pianist. Beardsley’s setting is not historically accurate. Instead it is reminiscent of 1870s aesthetic movement interiors. The position of the figure and the curtain recall Whistler’s celebrated portrait of his mother, copied by Beardsley in the letter nearby.

Private collection, Maas Gallery

The Third Ballade was one of the greatest compositions by the Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin who died in 1849 at the age of thirty nine. While an initial viewing might suggest a simple equestrian portrait, there is an implicit subtext of female domination in the woman’s mastery of the horse. Her determined expression, and the disparity between the horse and rider, reinforce this. Although never published in his lifetime, this design was used to illustrate Beardsley’s obituary in The Studio in 1898.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Fat Woman' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Fat Woman
1894
Ink on paper
Tate. Presented by Colonel James Lister Melvill at the request of his brother, Harry Edward Melvill 1931

 

 

John Lane refused to publish this drawing in The Yellow Book. The most likely reason is because it is an unflattering caricature of the artist Beatrice Whistler, James McNeill Whistler’s wife. Seated in the Café Royal, she is depicted as a domineering member of the demi-monde. Beardsley’s alternative title for the drawing – A Study in Major Lines – emphasises its artistic qualities but also jibes at Whistler’s musical titles.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) Title page to 'The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Title page to The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser
1895
Line block and letterpress print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This design was planned as the frontispiece for Beardsley’s own novel. The story was an erotic and humorous version of the Tannhäuser legend, in which the poet discovers the home of Venus and becomes one of her worshippers. Beardsley had ambitions to be a writer and he continued to obsess over the ultimately unfinished novel until his death. He admitted early on that it progressed ‘tortoise fashion but admirably’. Initially Lane agreed to publish the novel, but in the aftermath of Wilde’s trial he did not dare.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Mirror of Love' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Mirror of Love
1895
Ink over traces of graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley first met Marc-André Raffalovich, a poet and writer, in April 1895. It was not long afterwards that he drew this frontispiece for his collection of poems, The Thread and the Path. The figure in the mirror expresses the theme of the first poem: the quest towards a new ideal that transcended traditional definitions of gender and sexuality. However, the publisher, David Nutt, was shocked by the figure which he believed had both female and male attributes and refused to print it.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Venus between Terminal Gods' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Venus between Terminal Gods
1895
Ink on paper
Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

 

 

This drawing was also intended as an illustration for Beardsley’s unrealised novel for John Lane. It depicts Venus framed by two statues of male gods in the form of herms. Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), then President of the Royal Academy, was interested in the rising generation of artists and often commissioned drawings from them. Beardsley recorded that Leighton was encouraging about his work and greatly admired this design.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Caprice' c. 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Caprice
Verso: Masked Woman with a White Mouse
c. 1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1923

 

 

This is Beardsley’s only known oil painting. Unusually, it is double-sided. He began it in Walter Sickert’s studio, under his guidance. The subject on the front, Caprice, was painted first and relates closely to The Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I, displayed nearby. It shows a young woman being led through a doorway by an unfinished figure in a fanciful 18th-century costume. In the late-17th and 18th centuries, servants in European noble households included people of colour who were often enslaved and people with dwarfism. They were considered as ‘trophies’, demonstrating the power and status of those they served. Servants with dwarfism were often treated as ‘pets’, expected to amuse and entertain.

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This is the only known oil painting by the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and was painted in the studio of Walter Sickert. It comprises two pictures on one canvas. Caprice, in which a woman is invited through a doorway by a dwarf, and on the back, Woman with a White Mouse. Both are ambiguous scenes that appear to represent carnival. Caprice derives from the drawing Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I which appeared in The Yellow Book in 1894. Like Beardsley’s drawings, Caprice simplifies shape and colour to strengthen the effect.

Gallery label, February 2016

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This is the only known oil painting by Beardsley and, unusually, it comprises two pictures on the one canvas. The first painting to be completed appears to have been A Caprice, a fanciful yet sinister work, depicting a woman in a black dress with green trimmings and a black dwarf in a red costume. On the other side, painted between the stretchers, is an almost surreal image of a masked woman with a white mouse. Both works are unfinished, and should be regarded as experimental

A Caprice appears to derive from the drawing Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I, one of a series of three which appeared in the avant-garde journal, The Yellow Book, in July 1894. In both drawing and painting the woman is being invited by the sinister dwarf to pass through a doorway. The sexual connotations of this gesture are made more overt in the drawing, where the phallic form of the door is emphasised. Beardsley was constantly challenging the conventional view of male-female relations and in the second drawing in the series the woman approaches a door symbolising the female sexual organs.

The symbolism of Woman with a White Mouse also appears to be sexual, and Wilson refers to Freud’s theory that in dreams such things as mice become a substitute for the penis. Nevertheless, although Reade, too, describes the symbolism in this picture as ‘Freudian’, he also points out that Freud’s work was unknown in England in 1894.

Aware of the dramatic potential of black and shadowed areas, Beardsley contrasts areas of dark and light to great effect in both works. He also employs his favourite complementaries, red and green, to provide a stronger colour note in A Caprice. Stylistically he may have been influenced in these paintings by the early work of William Rothenstein (1872-1945), with whom he shared a studio, and whose pictures are inhabited by similarly bold and gloomy saturated forms. He may also have had in mind the work of the Venetian artist Pietro Longhi (1702-1783).

The title A Caprice was invented by the Beardsley scholar R.A. Walker who was the picture’s first owner. The name invites associations with the work of the fin-de-siècle poet Théodore Wratislaw (1871-1933), who published a selection of poems entitled Caprices in 1893.

Frances Fowle
December 2000

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Masked Woman with a White Mouse' c. 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Masked Woman with a White Mouse
c. 1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1923

 

 

Masked Woman with a White Mouse was painted second. Beardsley seems to have preferred this side and hung it on the wall in the house he bought in Pimlico.

 

 

The Savoy

Dismissed from The Yellow Book, Beardsley faced the loss of his income and a newly hostile atmosphere in London. Despite his international fame, his financial situation was precarious, and he was forced to sell his house. Beardsley left England for Dieppe, the favourite French seaside resort of English writers and artists. There he encountered Leonard Smithers, an enterprising publisher (and occasional pornographer). Smithers proposed starting a new magazine to rival The Yellow Book.

With Beardsley as art editor and the poet Arthur Symons in charge of literature, The Savoy was launched in 1896, at first as a quarterly. After two issues, Smithers – perhaps unwisely – decided to publish monthly. The consequent strain on his resources meant The Savoy folded after just a year. However, over just eight numbers it became one of the most significant and most beautifully produced ‘little magazines’ of the period.

The Savoy was published in Britain, but social and artistic conservatism were on the rise there following Wilde’s trial. Smithers was the only publisher who would print work by Wilde or Beardsley at this time. Some booksellers, like W.H. Smith, refused to display works by Beardsley in their windows. W.B. Yeats famously declared that The Savoy had valiantly waged ‘warfare on the British public at a time when we had all against us’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Savoy', Number 1 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Savoy, Number 1
1896
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Arthur Symons 1865-1945 (literature)
Leonard Smithers, London, January 1896
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Third Tableau of Das Rheingold' c. 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Third Tableau of Das Rheingold
c. 1896
Ink on paper
Lent by Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Museum Appropriation Fund

 

 

This drawing, like a play-within-a-play, illustrates an episode in Under the Hill in which the Abbé is ‘ravished with the wit and beauty’ of a performance of Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Savoy', Number 2 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Savoy, Number 2
1896
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Arthur Symons 1865-1945 (literature)
Leonard Smithers, London, April 1896
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Ave Atque Vale' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Ave Atque Vale
1896
Ink on paper
Private collection

 

 

This drawing accompanies Beardsley’s translation of the Hail and Farewell poem (Carmen CI) by Catullus (c. 84 – c. 54 BCE). In it, the Roman poet addresses his dead brother. Beardsley’s spare and beautiful composition captures the moving spirit of the poem. It attracted considerable praise when it appeared in the seventh number of The Savoy. Max Beerbohm wrote that ‘Catullus could not have craved a more finely emotional picture for his elegy’.

 

 

The Rape of Lock

Beardsley was a great admirer of the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744). Oscar Wilde had ridiculed his poetic taste, claiming ‘there are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to like Pope’.

Yet in 1896 Beardsley embarked on the illustration of his mock-epic poem, The Rape of the Lock (1712). In Pope’s title, the word ‘rape’ is used in its original sense of theft or abduction, rather than referring to sexual assault. The poem makes fun of a real incident during which Lord Petre (renamed ‘the Baron’) cut off a lock of the hair of Arabella Fermor (‘Belinda’ in the poem) without her permission, causing a feud between their families.

Inspired by the linear intricacies of French 18th-century copper-plate engravings, which he admired and collected, Beardsley developed a new, highly decorative style. The title page amusingly credits him as having ‘embroidered’ the illustrations.

This is the first time that so many of the original drawings for the book have been exhibited together.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Dream' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Dream
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Beardsley drew this as the frontispiece for Pope’s poem. It illustrates Ariel, Belinda’s guardian sylph (a spirit of the air), by her bed, while she is still dreaming. Beardsley used his new ‘stippled manner’ or use of dots, to render the intricate patterns on the bed curtains.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898 'The Baron’s Prayer' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Baron’s Prayer
1896
Ink and graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

The Baron is depicted kneeling at an altar made from a pile of books of love stories. He prays to the God of Love for help to obtain the prize of a lock of Belinda’s hair.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898 'The Rape of the Lock' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Rape of the Lock
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Private collection

 

 

The drawing illustrates the fateful moment when the Baron approaches to cut a lock of Belinda’s hair. She is unaware, her back turned to him. The fancifully dressed pageboy in the foreground (who may be a person with dwarfism) seems to reference a similar character in The Toilette scene in the Marriage A-la-mode series by William Hogarth (1697-1764). This adds an 18th-century connection to the work. He is the only figure to engage with the viewer, as if to point knowingly to the Baron’s mischief.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Cave of Spleen' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Cave of Spleen
1896
Ink on paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

 

 

Belinda, sitting to the right, across the drawing, has sought refuge in the Cave of Spleen. Umbriel, a gnome, is addressing her. Beardsley interpreted the author’s fantastical description of the cave and creatures within. This unleashed his delight in grotesque forms:

Unnumbered throngs on every side are seen
of bodies changed to various forms by Spleen.
Here living teapots stand, one arm held out,
One bent; the handle this, and that the spout…
Men prove with child, a powerful fancy works,
And maids, turned bottles, cry aloud for corks.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Battle of the Beaux and the Belles' c. 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Battle of the Beaux and the Belles
c. 1896
Ink on paper
The Henry Barber Trust, the Barber Institute of Fine Art, The University of Birmingham

 

 

Belinda, furious at the theft of the lock of her hair, faces her attacker the baron. Beardsley chose to depict the moment in the poem just before she throws a pinch of snuff in his face and overpowers him. This drawing was praised for its dramatic action. Beardsley’s virtuosity as a draughtsman is seen in the close-laid lines of his Rape of the Lock illustrations which were particularly admired by his contemporaries. Many thought this series of designs his best work.

 

 

Mademoiselle de Maupin

Beardsley worked on illustrating Théophile Gautier’s novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) for Leonard Smithers between February and October 1897. The hero of the story, D’Albert, searches for the ‘perfect’ woman. Instead he becomes overwhelmingly drawn to a young man. The object of his desire is eventually revealed to be Madelaine de Maupin, a woman who does not conform to gender expectations of the day, particularly through dress, and is attracted to both men and women. The plot reflects on an ideal unification of male and female attributes, a widely discussed idea in literary and artistic circles in 19th-century Europe.

In his preface, Gautier promoted ‘art for art’s sake’. This would become the doctrine of the aesthetic movement, which developed in the late 19th century to promote beauty over meaning or morality in art. D’Albert and de Maupin’s sexual encounter is described in terms of aesthetic perfection. However, de Maupin leaves D’Albert immediately afterwards.

Beardsley used watercolour in his drawings to create a new softer decorative style. His friend Robert Ross suggested that this technique was ‘less demanding’ at a time when his health was in rapid decline. But Beardsley later reverted to a more detailed approach, showing that he was simply exploring new modes of expression.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Mademoiselle de Maupin' 1898

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Mademoiselle de Maupin
1898
Photo-etching on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This is Beardsley’s frontispiece for Mademoiselle de Maupin. It shows the heroine dressed in her preferred outfit, men’s clothes as imagined by Beardsley. This is the first illustration of just six that Beardsley completed for Smithers’s planned edition of Gautier’s novel. He had optimistically intended to draw 32 but was too unwell to fulfil this ambition.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Lady with the Rose' 1897

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Lady with the Rose
1897
Ink, wash and graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

D’Albert does not find Madelaine de Maupin straight away. He first embarks on an affair with a woman he calls Rosette, the subject of this illustration. Beardsley developed different ‘types’ of women in his work, defined by particular features. Here, Rosette, sultry with large, heavy-lidded eyes, conforms to Beardsley’s late ‘type’. The striped walls of the room recall the style of interior decoration that Beardsley had favoured in his own house at 114 Cambridge Street, Pimlico.

 

 

Curiosa

While recuperating in the south of England during the summer of 1896, Beardsley began his two most explicit series of drawings yet. These were both inspired by classical sources. The first was a set of eight designs for the Ancient Greek comedy, Lysistrata, by Aristophanes. In this famous satirical play, Athenian and Spartan women bring an end to conflict by refusing to have sex with their warring menfolk until there is peace between their two cities. Beardsley’s other, equally outrageous set of drawings was made for Juvenal’s Sixth Satire, a misogynistic attack on the morals and sexual habits of the women of Ancient Rome.

These subjects chimed with Beardsley’s own irreverent humour and fascination with all aspects of sexuality – and, perhaps, his own sexual frustrations. Smithers, who prided himself that he would ‘publish what all the others are afraid to touch’, no doubt encouraged him. Matching the exuberant eroticism of the texts, Beardsley adopted a starkly linear style for these drawings. This bold new direction was inspired by his knowledge of Ancient Greek vase painting and Japanese erotic prints.

Very few of Beardsley’s contemporaries would have known of these drawings. Their ‘indecency’ meant they could not be published and advertised in the usual way. Instead they were only made available by Smithers to a select group of like-minded collectors through private subscription. Even so, Beardsley seems to have had second thoughts, perhaps prompted by his growing Catholic faith. On his deathbed, he wrote to Smithers imploring him to destroy all his ‘obscene drawings’, a request that Smithers ignored.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Lysistrata Shielding her Coynte' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Lysistrata Shielding her Coynte
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley made this as the frontispiece image for the book. It introduces the key themes of the play. Lysistrata, the women’s leader, turns her back on a statue of an aroused male deity, usually a symbol of fertility and virility. With one hand she seems to bar sexual relations or, perhaps, pleasure herself. With the other she holds an olive branch and delicately touches the top of an enormous phallus. The implication is that peace will bring an end to war and male sexual frustration. Her knowing smile reveals her control. Her sexual empowerment disrupts traditional Victorian views of male power and of female ignorance about sex.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Two Athenian Women in Distress' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Two Athenian Women in Distress
1896
Collotype print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley referred to this scene as ‘the rampant women’. The play describes the women deserting Athens as abstinence begins to take its toll. One woman even tries to escape by flying on the back of a sparrow. The bird was used as a symbol for male virility and dominance in contemporary pornography, as Beardsley would have known. He subverts that association here by making the sparrow a symbol of female sexual liberation. The drawing for this illustration was destroyed in a fire in 1929. Fortunately, a set of full-size collotype photographic reproductions had been made shortly before.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Cinesias Entreating Myrrhina to Coition' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Cinesias Entreating Myrrhina to Coition
1896
Line block printed in purple on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum
Wikipedia Commons Public domain

 

 

Originally Beardsley wanted to print the Lysistrata series in purple ink, but Smithers abandoned this idea, probably for financial reasons. This is one of a few coloured proofs that survive. It depicts Myrrhina dashing away after teasing her husband, Cinesias. Myrrhina has provoked him to the point that he will do anything in return for sex. She has all the power while her husband is incapacitated by desire. Her clothes, particularly the thigh-high black stockings, suggest Beardsley was influenced by 18th-century pornography and more recent erotic works such as those of the Belgian artist Félicien Rops (1833-1898).

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Examination of the Herald' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Examination of the Herald
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley was greatly inspired by Japanese shunga (erotic) prints. He even hung a series by Utamaro (c. 1753-1806) on the walls of his house in Pimlico, London – to the shock of those that visited. His study of such art is apparent in his adoption of exaggeratedly large phalluses to dramatise the extent of the men’s sexual frustration. In this illustration, the herald’s arrival in Athens to announce that Sparta is prepared to make peace becomes a bawdy joke. The young Spartan is conspicuously vigorous and virile. In contrast, the Athenian is elderly and shrivelled. His close inspection could be read as desire for the younger man or an interest in restoring his own virility.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

The success of the women’s sex strike is apparent in this drawing. The Lacedaemonian (or Spartan) ambassadors arrive in Athens to make peace, their frustrated sexual desires evident in their absurdly enlarged erections. Beardsley subverts this symbol of male virility and power as it incapacitates the Spartans and makes them ridiculous. The drawing also reveals Beardsley’s knowledge of classical culture. In Ancient Greek comic stage performances, actors sometimes wore large stage-prop phalluses to signal aspects of their character to the more distant sections of the audience.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Impatient Adulterer' 1896-7

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Impatient Adulterer
1896-7
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley described this drawing as ‘the adulterer fiddling with his foreskin in impatient expectation’. It illustrates Juvenal’s warning against Roman women who pretend to be ill, only so they can stay in bed and await their lovers. The man’s intention is clear, his toes are curled in desire and echo his insulting hand gesture, making the horns of a cuckold (a man whose wife is unfaithful). Contemporary viewers would also have identified his low brow as an indicator of an unintelligent and brutish character – perhaps a subtle signal that this is not his plot, but that of his scheming lover.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Messalina and her Companion' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Messalina and her Companion
1895
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by A.L. Assheton 1928

 

 

Messalina was the third wife of the Roman Emperor, Claudius I, and a shrewd political strategist. Yet historically she has been portrayed entirely in terms of her sexuality, either as a woman with no control over her desires or as a ruthless courtier using sex to achieve her goals. In his Sixth Satire, Juvenal perpetuated the myth that she secretly volunteered in a brothel. In this, Beardsley’s first depiction of the empress, he shows her disguised in a blonde wig and hooded cloak as she goes on one of her nightly visits. It was rejected from The Yellow Book as too daring.

 

 

Epilogue

After a wild spur-of-the-moment trip to Brussels in the spring of 1896, Beardsley suffered a much more severe haemorrhage of the lung from which he never fully recovered. Painfully aware of his own mortality, he moved from place to place in search of the ‘healthier’ air his doctors advised. Though the advance of his condition was relentless, with each change of location came new inspiration. His final years are characterised by a pattern of enthusiastically taking up new projects only to grow tired and abandon them. While his focus and energy gradually diminished, his late works show that his ambition, intellect, imagination and technical power did not.

Beardsley died in Menton in the south of France on 16 March 1898. He was 25 years old. As his friend Robert Ross commented: ‘there need be no sorrow for an “inheritor of unfulfilled renown.” Old age is no more a necessary complement to the realisation of genius than premature death. Within six years… he produced masterpieces he might have repeated but never surpassed.’

 

William Rothenstein (English, 1872-1945) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1897

 

William Rothenstein (English, 1872-1945)
Aubrey Beardsley
1897 (published 1899)
Lithograph on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This sensitive portrait of Beardsley was drawn by Rothenstein, one of his closest friends. It was probably done while Beardsley was in Paris in April 1897. The city – with its promenades, shops and cafés – raised his spirits and temporarily revived his health.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Volpone Adoring his Treasure' 1898

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Volpone Adoring his Treasure
1898
Ink over graphite on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

 

 

Beardsley’s final project was to illustrate Ben Jonson’s 17th-century play, Volpone or the Foxe. He had originally planned a sequence of 24 illustrations but died before the project was completed. This picture of Volpone worshipping at the altar of his wealth is a testament to Beardsley’s technical skill. Evoking 17th-century engravings, the drawing balances intricate linework with curving forms and blocks of white space. This was to be his last great drawing. It poignantly shows that Beardsley’s imagination and stylistic development continued even as his health was declining.

 

Monsieur Abel. 'Aubrey Beardsley in the room in which he died, Hôtel Cosmopolitain, Menton' 1897

 

Monsieur Abel
Aubrey Beardsley in the room in which he died, Hôtel Cosmopolitain, Menton
1897
Photograph, collodion printing-out paper print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This photograph is the last portrait of Beardsley before his death. Despite his poor health, he is still dressed elegantly and languorously posed. The walls are covered with his cherished prints by Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506). The bookshelf is lined with photographs of those he loved and admired: his mother and sister, Raffalovich and a likeness of Wagner. On his desk stands a crucifix, reflecting his recent conversion to Catholicism.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Ali Baba' 1897

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Ali Baba
1897
Line block print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This is Beardsley’s only other completed design for Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. It was made almost a year after his first drawing (shown nearby) and intended as the cover of the book. Ali Baba is shown, having discovered the cave of treasures, dripping in jewels and grown fat.

 

 

After Beardsley – The Early Years

The fall of Oscar Wilde was a blow from which the decadent artistic and literary world of the fin de siècle (‘end of century’) never fully recovered. But it was Beardsley’s death in 1898 that truly marked the end of an era. His friend Max Beerbohm caught this mood when he wrote of himself, ‘I belong to the Beardsley period’.

Beardsley’s drawings had been much imitated in his lifetime. Following his death, many young illustrators sought to step into his shoes. They worked in his style or, in some cases, made deliberate forgeries of his work. Few approached his skill as a draftsman or the rich fantasy of his imagination. Gathered here are some notable exceptions.

Collected editions of Beardsley’s drawings published after his death brought his work to an even wider audience. Alongside the illustrations to his most famous books, these included many of his drawings previously printed only in ephemeral publications. His designs proved influential for artists not only in Britain, but also throughout Europe and in Russia and Japan.

 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928) 'Poster for ‘The Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts’' 1894-6

 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928)
Poster for ‘The Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts’
1894-6
© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

 

 

The large stylised flower held by the woman and the bold expressive lines used by Mackintosh in this poster were enough for contemporaries to make a link with Beardsley. The art dealer Alexander Reid exhibited posters and designs by Mackintosh, Beardsley and others together in his Glasgow gallery in 1895. This prompted a comparison between both artists in the press.

 

Harry Clarke 1889-1931 'The Hindu Maid' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
The Hindu Maid
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931) '‘Music! Music’ cried the Emperor. ‘You little precious golden bird, sing!’' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
‘Music! Music’ cried the Emperor. ‘You little precious golden bird, sing!’
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection

 

 

The Irish artist Harry Clarke became known for his book illustrations and, later in his career, for his stained-glass windows. His illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales were his first to be published, in 1916. They reveal a close observation of Beardsley’s intricate lines, but also of his subjects. ‘Music! Music’ … in particular seems to pay homage to Beardsley’s Self-portrait in Bed, published in The Yellow Book.

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931) '‘I know what you want,’ said the Sea Witch' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
‘I know what you want,’ said the Sea Witch
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection
Wikipedia Commons Public domain

 

 

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20
Mar
20

Album: ‘Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822’

March 2020

 

'Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822' album cover

 

Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822 album cover
45 tipped in stipple engravings (including one proof engraving, number 23)
1796-1822
Assembled c. 1920s-30s
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

It’s incredible the number of disparate objects that I have in my collection, assembled mainly from purchases at op shops (in Australia, opportunity shops; in America, thrift stores).

I feel that I am just the custodian of these objects and if possible, I like placing them in a context where they will be appreciated. Such is the case with this album of forty five stipple engravings from 1796-1822 bought recently at an op shop. It’s not really my thing, but the plates are so old, the letter from the British Museum so interesting, that I thought I would rescue it before someone else bought it and broke it up. As so happens with the synchronicity of the world I found from my dear friend Assoc. Professor Alison Inglis, that the University of Melbourne celebrated a 50 year relationship with the British Museum last year. And since I work at the University, nothing could be better than donating the album to the Baillieu Library Print Collection, one of the best print collections in Australia.

Looking at the plates themselves (the engravings adaptations taken from paintings) we observe a mainly patriarchal society, dominated by religious and military figures, the latter well known to each other in the small circle of high-up society figures, forming friendships and enmities along the way. The other societal group well represented are the theatrical performers, whether female or male. Both groups would have been known to each other, often joined through the auspices of the artists who painted their portraits, for example Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds and Samuel Drummond.

Networks of association can be teased out of the bibliographic information. For example, English novelist, actress, and dramatist Elizabeth Inchbald successful play Lovers’ Vows was a translation of August von Kotzebue’s original piece and was much admired by Jane Austen, both Inchbald and von Kotzebue being represented in the album. Another example is the English portrait painter George Romney whose artistic muse was Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Nelson. In the album we find a stipple engraving by William Ridley taken from a painting by George Romney of Sir John Orde, remembered as a professional enemy of Nelson. And so the circle of intrigue, passion, friendship and enmity continues to spiral around the players in this Georgian era.

Of most interest to me are the strong, independent women who, often pulling themselves up from the bootstraps, made outstanding contributions to the society of the time, and the history of female emancipation. Frances Abington began her career as a flower girl and a street singer (and for a short period of time was a prostitute to help her family in the hard times) who went on to be amongst the foremost rank of comic actresses, known for her avant-garde fashion and great beauty. “Her ambition, personal wit and cleverness won her a distinguished position in society, in spite of her humble origin.” Elizabeth Inchbald is the story of an unknown actress who became a celebrated playwright and author. Elizabeth Montagu was a British social reformer, patron of the arts, salonnière, literary critic and writer, who helped to organise and lead the Blue Stockings Society (an informal women’s social and educational movement).

Of most importance is the English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights, pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) who is today, “regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and her works as important influences. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.” (Wikipedia) Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement but died at the age of 38 giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Shelley, who would become an accomplished writer and author of Frankenstein. After her death her widower published Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in January 1798 which, “inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, [is] unusually frank for its time. He did not shrink from presenting the parts of Wollstonecraft’s life that late eighteenth-century British society would judge either immoral or in bad taste, such as her close friendship with a woman, her love affairs, her illegitimate child, her suicide attempts and her agonizing death.” (Wikipedia) The stipple engraving in this album was published just over a year and half before her death – so, taken “from life” – as she was soon to be.

Truly, this is a human being that I would have liked to have met.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Baillieu Library Print Collection for allowing the publication of the images. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

William Ridley: b. 1764; d. Aug. 15th, 1838, at Addlestone. Worked mostly for periodicals and book-illustrations, and engraved portraits in stipple after Gainsborough, Reynolds etc, etc. See

  • Redgrave: ‘Dictionary of English Artists’ 1878
  • Le Blanc: ‘Manuel de l’Amateur d’Estampes’, Vol. iii
  • Hayden: ‘Chats on Old Prints’, 1909

 

William Holl, the Elder: b. 1771; d. Dec 1st, 1838. Pupil of Benjamin Smith; engraved, mostly in stipple, after portraits for various publications including Lodge’s ‘Portraits’; also two mythological subjects after Richard Westall. See:

  • Redgrave: ‘Dictionary of English Artists’ 1878
  • Dictionary of National Biography

 

T. or J. Blood: worked about 1782-1823. Engraved portrait in stipple after Russell, Drummond, et. also worked from the ‘European Magazine’.

 

 

'Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822' bill of sale

 

Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822 bill of sale
1979
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

'Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822' Index

 

Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822 Index
45 tipped in stipple engravings (including one proof engraving, number 23)
1796-1822
Assembled c. 1920s-30s
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

Letter from the British Museum dated January 1937 pasted into 'Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822'

 

Letter from the British Museum dated January 1937 pasted into Portrait Engravings in stipple by W. Ridley, and his associates, W. Holl & T. Blood. 1796-1822
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Sir John Orde, Admiral of the White Squadron' 1804

 

(1) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
L. Gold (British)(103, Shoe Lane)(publisher)
Sir John Orde, Bart, Admiral of the White Squadron
1 April 1804
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

George Romney (English, 1734-1802) 'Admiral Sir John Orde' 18th century

 

George Romney (English, 1734-1802)
Admiral Sir John Orde
18th century
oil on canvas
30 x 24¼ in. (76.1 x 63 cm.)
Public domain

 

 

George Romney

George Romney (26 December 1734 – 15 November 1802) was an English portrait painter. He was the most fashionable artist of his day, painting many leading society figures – including his artistic muse, Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Nelson.

For a full biography please see the Wikipedia website.

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'George Colman Esqr 1797

 

(2) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Bellamy & Roberts (British)(King Street, Covent Garden)(publisher)
George Colman Esqr
September 1, 1797
Engraved by Ridley from an Original Painting in the possession of Mr Jewell
Pubd for the Proprietors of the Monthly Mirror
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

George Colman

George Colman (21 October 1762 – 17 October 1836), known as “the Younger”, was an English dramatist and miscellaneous writer. He was the son of George Colman the Elder. …

His comedies are a curious mixture of genuine comic force and sentimentality. A collection of them was published (1827) in Paris, with a life of the author, by J. W. Lake.

His first play, The Female Dramatist (1782), for which Smollett’s Roderick Random supplied the materials, was unanimously condemned, but Two to One (1784) was entirely successful. It was followed by Turk and no Turk (1785), a musical comedy; Inkle and Yarico (1787), an opera; Ways and Means (1788); The Battle of Hexham (1793); The Iron Chest (1796), taken from William Godwin’s Adventures of Caleb Williams; The Heir at Law (1797), which enriched the stage with one immortal character, “Dr Pangloss” (borrowed of course from Voltaire’s Candide); The Poor Gentleman (1802); John Bull, or an Englishman’s Fireside (1803), his most successful piece; and numerous other pieces, many of them adapted from the French.

Colman, whose witty conversation made him a favourite, was also the author of a great deal of so-called humorous poetry (mostly coarse, though much of it was popular) – My Night Gown and Slippers (1797), reprinted under the name of Broad Grins, in 1802; and Poetical Vagaries (1812). Some of his writings were published under the assumed name of Arthur Griffinhood of Turnham Green.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Sir Charles Morice Pole, Bart' 1 June 1805

 

(3) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
J. Asperne (British)(publisher)
Sir Charles Morice Pole, Bart
1 June 1805
European Magazine
Engraved by Ridley from a Picture, by J. Northcote, R.A.
Published by J. Asperne, at the Bible, Crown & Constitution, Cornhill
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

European Magazine

The European Magazine was a monthly magazine published in London. Eighty-nine semi-annual volumes were published from 1782 until 1826. It was launched as the European Magazine, and London Review in January 1782, promising to offer “the Literature, History, Politics, Arts, Manners, and Amusements of the Age.” It was in direct competition with The Gentleman’s Magazine, and in 1826 was absorbed into the Monthly Magazine.

Soon after launching the European Magazine, its founding editor, James Perry, passed proprietorship to the Shakespearean scholar Isaac Reed and his partners John Sewell and Daniel Braithwaite, who guided the magazine during its first two decades.

The articles and other contributions in the magazine appeared over initials or pseudonyms and have largely remained anonymous. Scholars believe that the contributions include the first published poem by William Wordsworth (1787) and the earliest known printing of “O Sanctissima”, the popular Sicilian Mariners Hymn (1792).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sir Charles Pole, 1st Baronet

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Charles Morice Pole, 1st Baronet GCB (18 January 1757 – 6 September 1830) was a Royal Navy officer and colonial governor. As a junior officer he saw action at the Siege of Pondicherry in India during the American Revolutionary War. After taking command of the fifth-rate HMS Success he captured and then destroyed the Spanish frigate Santa Catalina in the Strait of Gibraltar in the action of 16 March 1782 later in that War.

After capturing the French privateer Vanneau in June 1793, Pole took part in the Siege of Toulon at an early stage of the French Revolutionary Wars. He went on to be governor and commander-in-chief of Newfoundland and then commanded the Baltic Fleet later in the War. He also served as a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty on the Admiralty Board led by Viscount Howick during the Napoleonic Wars.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Mrs Abington' Dec 30, 1797

 

(5) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Bellamy & Roberts (British)(King Street, Covent Garden)(publisher)
Mrs Abington
Dec 30, 1797
Engraved by Ridley from a Picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Published as the Act directs by T. Belamy at the Monthly Mirror Office, King Street Covent Garden
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

Frances Barton, Mrs Abington (1737-1815) as ‘Roxalana’ in Isaac Bickerstaff’s ‘The Sultan’ (after Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA)

 

 

Monthly Mirror

The Monthly Mirror was an English literary periodical, published from 1795 to 1811, founded by Thomas Bellamy, and later jointly owned by Thomas Hill and John Litchfield. It was published by Vernor & Hood from the second half of 1798.

The Mirror concentrated on theatre, in London and the provinces. The first editor for Hill was Edward Du Bois. From 1812 it was merged into the Theatrical Inquisitor.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Frances Abington

Frances “Fanny” Abington (1737 – 4 March 1815) was a British actress, known not only for her acting, but her sense of fashion. …

Her Shakespearean heroines – Beatrice, Portia, Desdemona and Ophelia – were no less successful than her comic characters – Miss Hoyden, Biddy Tipkin, Lucy Lockit and Miss Prue. Mrs. Abington’s Kitty in “High Life Below Stairs” put her in the foremost rank of comic actresses, making the mob cap she wore in the role the reigning fashion. This cap was soon referred to as the “Abington Cap” and frequently seen on stage as well as in hat shops across Ireland and England. Adoring fans donned copies of this cap and it became an essential part of the well-appointed woman’s wardrobe. The actress soon became known for her avant-garde fashion and she even came up with a way of making the female figure appear taller. She began to wear this tall-hat called a ziggurat complete with long flowing feathers and began to follow the French custom of putting red powder on her hair (Richards).

It was as the last character in Congreve’s Love for Love that Sir Joshua Reynolds painted the best-known of his half-dozen or more portraits of her. In 1782 she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden. After an absence from the stage from 1790 until 1797, she reappeared, quitting it finally in 1799. Her ambition, personal wit and cleverness won her a distinguished position in society, in spite of her humble origin.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Joshua Reynolds (British, 1723-1792) 'Portrait of Mrs. Abington (1737-1815)' 18th century

 

Joshua Reynolds (British, 1723-1792)
Portrait of Mrs. Abington (1737-1815)
18th century
Oil on canvas
74 cm (29.1″); Width: 61.5 cm (24.2″)
Denver Art Museum, Berger Collection
Public domain

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Revd John Yockney, Staines' Nd

 

(7) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Revd John Yockney, Staines
Nd
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'August von Kotzebue' April 30, 1799

 

(8) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Vernor & Hood (British)(31 Poultry)(publisher)
August von Kotzebue
April 30, 1799
Engraved by Ridley from an Original Picture Painted at Berlin
Published as the Act directs by Vernor & Hood, 31 Poultry
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

August von Kotzebue

August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue (German 1761 – 23 March [O.S. 11 March] 1819) was a German dramatist and writer who also worked as a consul in Russia and Germany.

In 1817, one of Kotzebue’s books was burned during the Wartburg festival. He was murdered in 1819 by Karl Ludwig Sand, a militant member of the Burschenschaften. This murder gave Metternich the pretext to issue the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, which dissolved the Burschenschaften, cracked down on the liberal press, and seriously restricted academic freedom in the states of the German Confederation.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'General Washington' April 1st 1800

 

(9) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
J. Sewell (British)(32 Cornhill)(publisher)
General Washington
April 1st 1800
European Magazine
Engraved by Ridley from an Original Picture in the Possession of Saml. Vaughan Esq.
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

This engraving was probably published to memorialise Washington’s death in December 1799

 

 

George Washington

George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Previously, he led Patriot forces to victory in the nation’s War for Independence. He presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which established the U.S. Constitution and a federal government. Washington has been called the “Father of His Country” for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.

Washington received his initial military training and command with the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War. He was later elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and was named a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he was appointed Commanding General of the Continental Army. He commanded American forces, allied with France, in the defeat and surrender of the British during the Siege of Yorktown. He resigned his commission after the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Washington played a key role in adopting and ratifying the Constitution and was then elected president (twice) by the Electoral College. He implemented a strong, well-financed national government while remaining impartial in a fierce rivalry between cabinet members Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. During the French Revolution, he proclaimed a policy of neutrality while sanctioning the Jay Treaty. He set enduring precedents for the office of president, including the title “President of the United States”, and his Farewell Address is widely regarded as a pre-eminent statement on republicanism.

Washington owned slaves, and in order to preserve national unity he supported measures passed by Congress to protect slavery. He later became troubled with the institution of slavery and freed his slaves in a 1799 will. He endeavoured to assimilate Native Americans into Anglo-American culture but combated indigenous resistance during occasions of violent conflict. He was a member of the Anglican Church and the Freemasons, and he urged broad religious freedom in his roles as general and president. Upon his death, he was eulogised as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. He has been memorialised by monuments, art, geographical locations, stamps, and currency, and many scholars and polls rank him among the greatest U.S. presidents.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Mr Dignum, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane' Jany. 1, 1799

 

(10) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Bellamy & Roberts (British)(Cornhill)(publisher)
Mr Dignum, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Jany. 1, 1799
European Magazine
Painted by Drummond
Published by J. Sewell
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Charles Dignum

Charles Dignum (c. 1765 – 29 March 1827) was a popular tenor singer, actor and composer of English birth and Irish parentage who was active in recital, concert and theatre stage, mainly in London, for about thirty years. …

Dignum and William Shield, Charles Incledon, Charles Bannister, ‘Jack’ Johnstone, Charles Ashley and William Parke (oboeist) in 1793 formed themselves into ‘The Glee Club’, a set which met on Sunday evenings during the season at the Garrick’s Head Coffee House in Bow Street, once a fortnight, for singing among themselves and dining together. A project to erect a bust to Dr Thomas Arne, which this group proposed to fund by charitable performances, was vetoed by the management of Covent Garden.

His obituarist remarked, ‘Dignum, with many ludicrous eccentricities, was an amiable, good-natured, jolly fellow.’ He married Miss Rennett, the daughter of an attorney, whose fortune helped to sustain them. After her death he suffered a period of ‘mental derangement’ in misery at her loss, and also suffered from much unhappiness when his granddaughter was kidnapped for a period, for which the offender was prosecuted and transported. A contemporary of the great Michael Kelly, of Charles Incledon and (latterly) of John Braham, he had to work hard for public favour and to withstand attacks referring to his humble origins, his religion and his physical ungainliness (he became quite fat): but, having obtained respect for his skills and good character, he held his place in the affection of his admirers, made large sums at his benefits in later years, and was able to retire with some fortune. He died of inflammation of the lungs in Gloucester Street, London, aged 62 in 1827.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Samuel Drummond

Samuel Drummond ARA (25 December 1766, London – 6 August 1844, London) was a British painter, especially prolific in portrait and marine genre painting. His works are on display in the National Portrait Gallery, the National Maritime Museum and the Walker Art Gallery.

Drummond was born to Jane Bicknell and James Drummond, a London baker. At about thirteen Drummond was apprenticed to the sea service, working on the Baltic trade routes for six or seven years. After the navy, Drummond worked briefly as a clerk before entering the Royal Academy Schools on 15 July 1791. Drummond started his portraying with crayons and oil and within several years exhibited over three hundred pictures at the Royal Academy. In 1808 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy.

Among Drummond’s sitters were Walter Scott, Francis Place, Elizabeth Fry and Marc Isambard Brunel. He also painted such persons as Admiral Edward Pellew, Captain William Rogers and Rear-Admiral William Edward Parry. After 1800, Drummond started large oil paintings on maritime history of the United Kingdom (The Battle of the Nile, 1st August 1798, Captain William Rogers Capturing the Jeune Richard, 1 October 1807, Admiral Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown, 11 October 1797 (1827) and a series of paintings on the death of Horatio Nelson.

For some time Drummond was employed by The European Magazine and London Review to make portraits of leading personalities of the day. Among the portraits published in The European Magazine were those of Lord Gerald Lake, Sir John Soane and Friedrich Accum.

Towards the end of the life, despite of continuing his craft, Drummond struggled financially and was frequently supported from the funds of the Royal Academy. Nearly all Drummond’s children from his three marriages became artists (five daughters and one son): Rose Emma from the first, Ellen, Eliza Ann and Jane from the second to Rose Hudson and Rosa Myra and Julian from the third one.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Mrs Wollstonecraft' Feb. 1st, 1796

 

(12) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Bellamy & Roberts (British)(King Street, Covent Garden)(publisher)
Mrs Wollstonecraft
Feb. 1st, 1796
Engraved by Ridley from a Painting by Opie
Pub.d for the Proprietors of the Monthly Mirror by T. Belamy, King St. Covent Garden
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

 

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft (27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797) was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft’s life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships at the time, received more attention than her writing. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and her works as important influences.

During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.

After Wollstonecraft’s death, her widower published a Memoir (1798) of her life, revealing her unorthodox lifestyle, which inadvertently destroyed her reputation for almost a century. However, with the emergence of the feminist movement at the turn of the twentieth century, Wollstonecraft’s advocacy of women’s equality and critiques of conventional femininity became increasingly important.

After two ill-fated affairs, with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay (by whom she had a daughter, Fanny Imlay), Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement. Wollstonecraft died at the age of 38 leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts. She died eleven days after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Shelley, who would become an accomplished writer and author of Frankenstein.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792), written by the 18th-century British proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. In it, Wollstonecraft responds to those educational and political theorists of the 18th century who did not believe women should receive a rational education. She argues that women ought to have an education commensurate with their position in society, claiming that women are essential to the nation because they educate its children and because they could be “companions” to their husbands, rather than mere wives. Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintains that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men.

Wollstonecraft was prompted to write the Rights of Woman after reading Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord’s 1791 report to the French National Assembly, which stated that women should only receive a domestic education; she used her commentary on this specific event to launch a broad attack against sexual double standards and to indict men for encouraging women to indulge in excessive emotion. Wollstonecraft wrote the Rights of Woman hurriedly to respond directly to ongoing events; she intended to write a more thoughtful second volume but died before completing it.

While Wollstonecraft does call for equality between the sexes in particular areas of life, such as morality, she does not explicitly state that men and women are equal. Her ambiguous statements regarding the equality of the sexes have since made it difficult to classify Wollstonecraft as a modern feminist, particularly since the word and the concept were unavailable to her. Although it is commonly assumed now that the Rights of Woman was unfavourably received, this is a modern misconception based on the belief that Wollstonecraft was as reviled during her lifetime as she became after the publication of William Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798). The Rights of Woman was actually well received when it was first published in 1792. One biographer has called it “perhaps the most original book of [Wollstonecraft’s] century”. Wollstonecraft’s work had a profound impact on advocates for women’s rights in the nineteenth century, in particular on the Declaration of Sentiments, the document written at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 that laid out the aims of the suffragette movement in the United States.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

John Opie (British, 1761-1807) 'Mary Wollstonecraft (Mrs William Godwin)' c. 1790-1

 

John Opie (British, 1761-1807)
Mary Wollstonecraft (Mrs William Godwin)
c. 1790-1
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 759 × 638 mm
Tate. Purchased 1884
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Wollstonecraft was a ground-breaking feminist. This portrait shows her looking directly towards us, temporarily distracted from her studies. Such a pose would more typically be used for a male sitter. Women would normally be presented as more passive, often gazing away from the viewer. The painting dates to around the time she published A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). This argued against the idea that women were naturally inferior to men and emphasised the importance of education.

Tate Gallery label, October 2019

 

Mary Wollstonecraft. 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' title page 1792

 

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman title page from the first American edition by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
Library of Congress
Public domain

 

Henry Fuseli (Swiss, 1741-1825) 'La débutante' (The Debutante) 1807

 

Henry Fuseli (Swiss, 1741-1825)
La débutante (The Debutante)
1807
Pencil, ink, watercolour on cardboard
37 × 24 cm
Tate
Public domain

 

 

The Debutante (1807) by Henry Fuseli; “Woman, the victim of male social conventions, is tied to the wall, made to sew and guarded by governesses. The picture reflects Mary Wollstonecraft’s views in The Rights of Women [sic]”1

  1. Tomory, Peter. The Life and Art of Henry Fuseli. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972, p. 217.

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Mrs Inchbald' June 1, 1797

 

(14) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Bellamy & Roberts (British)(King Street, Covent Garden)(publisher)
Mrs Inchbald
June 1, 1797
Engraved by Ridley from an Original Painting by Drummond
Publish’d for the Proprietors of the Monthly Mirror by T. Belamy, King St. Covent Garden
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Elizabeth Inchbald

Elizabeth Inchbald (née Simpson) (1753-1821) was an English novelist, actress, and dramatist. Her two novels are still read today. …

Due to success as a playwright, Inchbald did not need the financial support of a husband and did not remarry. Between 1784 and 1805 she had 19 of her comedies, sentimental dramas, and farces (many of them translations from the French) performed at London theatres. Her first play to be performed was A Mogul Tale, in which she played the leading feminine role of Selina. In 1780, she joined the Covent Garden Company and played a breeches role in Philaster as Bellarion. Inchbald had a few of her plays produced such as Appearance is Against Them (1785), Such Things Are (1787), and Everyone Has Fault (1793). Some of her other plays such as A Mogul Tale (1784) and I’ll Tell You What (1785) were produced at the Haymarket Theatre. Eighteen of her plays were published, though she wrote several more; the exact number is in dispute though most recent commentators claim between 21 and 23. Her two novels have been frequently reprinted. She also did considerable editorial and critical work. Her literary start began with writing for The Artist and Edinburgh Review. A four-volume autobiography was destroyed before her death upon the advice of her confessor, but she left some of her diaries. The latter are currently held at the Folger Shakespeare Library and an edition was recently published.

Her play Lovers’ Vows (1798) was featured as a focus of moral controversy by Jane Austen in her novel Mansfield Park.

After her success, she felt she needed to give something back to London society, and decided in 1805 to try being a theatre critic.

A political radical and friend of William Godwin and Thomas Holcroft, her political beliefs can more easily be found in her novels than in her plays, due to the constrictive environment of the patent theatres of Georgian London. “Inchbald’s life was marked by tensions between, on the one hand, political radicalism, a passionate nature evidently attracted to a number of her admirers, and a love of independence, and on the other hand, a desire for social respectability and a strong sense of the emotional attraction of authority figures.” She died on 1 August 1821 in Kensington and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary Abbots. On her gravestone it states, “Whose writings will be cherished while truth, simplicity, and feelings, command public admiration.” In 1833, a two-volume Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald by James Boaden was published by Richard Bentley.

In recent decades Inchbald has been the subject of increasing critical interest, particularly among scholars investigating women’s writing.

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Reception history

The reception history of Elizabeth Inchbald is the story of an unknown actress who became a celebrated playwright and author. As an actress, who at the start of her career was overshadowed by her husband, Inchbald was determined to prove herself to the acting community. Some scholars recognised this describing her as “richly textured with strands of resistance, boldness, and libidinal thrills”. A very important aspect of Inchbald’s reception history is her workplace and professional reputation. Around the theatre she was known for upholding high moral standards. Inchbald described having to defend herself from the sexual advances brought on by stage manager James Dodd and theatre manager John Taylor.

Her writing history began with various plays that Inchbald soon earned a reputation for publishing in times of political scandal. One of the things that separated Inchbald from her competitors at the time was her ability to translate plays from German and French into English works of art. These translations were popular with the public due to Inchbald’s ability to make characters in her writings come to life. The majority of what she translated consisted of farces that received positive feedback from her reading audience. Over the next twenty years, she translated a couple of successful pieces a year, one of these was the very successful play, Lovers’ Vows. In this translation of August von Kotzebues original piece, Inchbald gained complements from Jane Austen, who put the translation in her popular book, Mansfield Park. Although Austen’s book brought more fame to Inchbald, Lovers’ Vows ran for forty-two nights when it was originally performed in 1798. Not only were her plays well liked, but her famous novel A Simple Story always received praise. Terry Castle once referred to it as “the most elegant English fiction of the eighteenth century”. As she ended her career and decided to start critiquing in the theatre, the reception of her work from contemporary critics was low. For example, S. R. Littlewood suggested that Inchbald was ignorant of Shakespearian literature.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Sir John Jervis. K.B., Vice Admiral of the White' April 1, 1797

 

(15) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Bellamy & Roberts (British)(King Street, Covent Garden)(publisher)
Sir John Jervis. K.B., Vice Admiral of the White
April 1, 1797
Engraved by Ridley from a Picture in he possession of Mrs Ricketts
Publish’d for the Proprietors of the Monthly Mirror by T. Belamy, King St. Covent Garden
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Sir John Jervis

Admiral of the Fleet John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent GCB, PC (9 January 1735 – 13 March 1823) was an admiral in the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom. Jervis served throughout the latter half of the 18th century and into the 19th, and was an active commander during the Seven Years’ War, American War of Independence, French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars. He is best known for his victory at the 1797 Battle of Cape Saint Vincent, from which he earned his titles, and as a patron of Horatio Nelson.

Jervis was also recognised by both political and military contemporaries as a fine administrator and naval reformer. As Commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean, between 1795 and 1799 he introduced a series of severe standing orders to avert mutiny. He applied those orders to both seamen and officers alike, a policy that made him a controversial figure. He took his disciplinarian system of command with him when he took command of the Channel Fleet in 1799. In 1801, as First Lord of the Admiralty he introduced a number of reforms that, though unpopular at the time, made the Navy more efficient and more self-sufficient. He introduced innovations including block making machinery at Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. St Vincent was known for his generosity to officers he considered worthy of reward and his swift and often harsh punishment of those he felt deserved it.

Jervis’ entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by P. K. Crimmin describes his contribution to history: “His importance lies in his being the organiser of victories; the creator of well-equipped, highly efficient fleets; and in training a school of officers as professional, energetic, and devoted to the service as himself.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Mrs Montagu' Septemr 30th, 1798

 

(17) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Bellamy & Roberts (British)(King Street, Covent Garden)(publisher)
Mrs Montagu
Septemr 30th, 1798
Engraved by Ridley from a Picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Published as the Act directs by T. Belamy at the Monthly Mirror Office, King Street Covent Garden
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Elizabeth Montagu

Elizabeth Montagu (née Robinson; 2 October 1718 – 25 August 1800) was a British social reformer, patron of the arts, salonnière, literary critic and writer, who helped to organise and lead the Blue Stockings Society. Her parents were both from wealthy families with strong ties to the British peerage and learned life. She was sister to Sarah Scott, author of A Description of Millenium Hall and the Country Adjacent. She married Edward Montagu, a man with extensive landholdings, to become one of the richer women of her era. She devoted this fortune to fostering English and Scottish literature and to the relief of the poor.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Mr. Saml. Turner, late Missionary Surgeon' Mar 1, 1801

 

(18) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
T. Chapman (British)(Fleet Street)(publisher)
Mr. Saml. Turner, late Missionary Surgeon
Mar 1, 1801
Evangelical Magazine
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Evangelical Magazine

The Evangelical Magazine was a monthly magazine published in London from 1793 to 1904, and aimed at Calvinist Christians. It was supported by evangelical members of the Church of England, and by nonconformists with similar beliefs. Its editorial line included a strong interest in missionary work.

John Eyre, an Anglican, played a significant role in founding the Evangelical Magazine, and as its editor, to 1802. Robert Culbertson was involved in the early times, and was an editor. William Kingsbury contributed from the start. John Townsend (1757-1826) was a supporter; Edward Williams was another founder and editor.

In 1802 the Christian Observer began publication. It catered for evangelical Anglicans, and from this point the Evangelical Magazine came into the hands of Congregationalists.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Samuel Turner, Convict Ship Surgeon

Samuel Turner was appointed Surgeon to the convict ship Royal Admiral transporting 300 prisoners to New South Wales in 1800. Gaol fever (typhus) raged on the voyage and 43 prisoners died as well as four seamen, a convict’s wife and a convict’s child. Samuel Turner also succumbed to the disease. He was only twenty-six of age.

 

Extracts from the Journal of the Royal Admiral. May 24, 1800

The Surgeon, Mr. Turner, very ill

26th. Dr. Turner is in a very dangerous fever; we are much alarmed at the increase of this epidemical disease. To-day there are fifteen convicts in the hospital taken ill of that fever, which is exactly described by Buchan in his Domestic Medicine

One of the births in our study being given to Dr. Turner at the beginning of his illness, consequently he was continually attended by the brethren; and for some nights we have sat up with him. Now he grows delirious! but at times he enjoys his senses; and last night at intervals expressed an earnest desire to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

June 1st. In the afternoon held a Prayer Meeting in behalf of our brother Turner, he seems to be considerably worse since yesterday forenoon.

Monday 2d. Since last Saturday morning Dr. Turner spoke but little. To-day he was quite speechless. Almost through his illness he had some expectation of getting better, though for some time past we had not the least hopes of his recovery. This day perceiving his dissolution drawing near, some of the brethren engaged in prayer (as we have done several times before) on his behalf.

Just as they concluded, about forty minutes past three in the afternoon, his soul being freed from his earthly tabernacle, departed to be with Christ. His body was put in a coffin, and at half past six deposited in the great deep; till the time when the sea shall give up its dead.

J. Youl read the burial service. All that were present behaved decently; some were much affected, especially the brethren that had been with him in the Duff. Thus ended the life of our brother Turner, after an illness of fourteen days, which he bore with patience. His death was regretted by all on board, as he was much esteemed both as a Surgeon and as a Christian.

Memoir of Samuel Turner – Evangelical Magazine

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Sir Charles Grey, K.B.' Jany. 1, 1797

 

(21) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
J. Sewell (British)(Cornhill)(publisher)
Sir Charles Grey, K.B.
Jany. 1, 1797
European Magazine
Engraved by Ridley from an original Miniature
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Charles Grey, 1st Earl Grey

Charles Grey, 1st Earl Grey, KB, PC (circa 23 October 1729 – 14 November 1807) served as a British general in the 18th century. A distinguished soldier in a generation of exceptionally capable military and naval personnel, he served in the Seven Years’ War of 1756-1763, taking part in the defeat of France. He later served in the American War of Independence (1775-1783) and in the early campaigns against France during the French Revolutionary War. Following the Battle of Paoli in Pennsylvania in 1777 he became known as “No-flint Grey” for, reputedly, ordering his men to extract the flints from their muskets during a night approach and to fight with the bayonet only.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Sir James Saumarez Bart., K.B., Rear Admiral of the Blue Squadron' Jany. 1, 1797

 

(22) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
J. Sewell (British)(Cornhill)(publisher)
Sir James Saumarez Bart., K.B., Rear Admiral of the Blue Squadron
Jany. 1, 1797
European Magazine
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

Admiral James Saumarez, 1st Baron de Saumarez (or Sausmarez), GCB (11 March 1757 – 9 October 1836) was an admiral of the British Royal Navy, notable for his victory at the Second Battle of Algeciras.

 

 

Stipple engraving

Stipple engraving is a technique used to create tone in an intaglio print by distributing a pattern of dots of various sizes and densities across the image. The pattern is created on the printing plate either in engraving by gouging out the dots with a burin, or through an etching process. Stippling was used as an adjunct to conventional line engraving and etching for over two centuries, before being developed as a distinct technique in the mid-18th century. The technique allows for subtle tonal variations and is especially suitable for reproducing chalk drawings. …

The process of stipple engraving is described in T.H. Fielding’s Art of Engraving (1841). To begin with an etching “ground” is laid on the plate, which is a waxy coating that makes the plate resistant to acid. The outline is drawn out in small dots with an etching needle, and the darker areas of the image shaded with a pattern of close dots. As in mezzotint use was made of roulettes, and a mattoir to produce large numbers of dots relatively quickly. Then the plate is bitten with acid, and the etching ground removed. The lighter areas of shade are then laid in with a drypoint or a stipple graver; Fielding describes the latter as “resembling the common kind, except that the blade bends down instead of up, thereby allowing the engraver greater facility in forming the small holes or dots in the copper”. The etched middle and dark tones would also be deepened where appropriate with the graver. …

In England the technique was used for “furniture prints” with a similar purpose, and became very popular, though regarded with disdain by producers of the portrait mezzotints that dominated the English portrait print market. Stipple competed with mezzotint as a tonal method of printmaking, and while it lacked the rich depth of tone of mezzotint, it had the great advantage that far more impressions could be taken from a plate.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Revd. Mr Wilkins of Abington' 1 Sept 1809

 

(23) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Williams & Smith (British)(Stationess Court)(publisher)
Revd. Mr Wilkins of Abington
1 Sept 1809
Pubd. by Williams & Smith, Stationess Court
Proof stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

William Ridley (British, 1764-1838) 'Mr. Elliston' Oct. 1st, 1796

 

(25) William Ridley (British, 1764-1838)(sculptor)
Bellamy & Roberts (British)(King St., Covt. Garden)(publisher)
Mr. Elliston
Oct. 1st, 1796
Engraved by Ridley from a Picture by Drummond
Publish’d for the Proprietors of the Monthly Mirror by T. Belamy, King St., Covt. Garden
Stipple engraving
Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Robert William Elliston

Robert William Elliston (7 April 1774 – 7 July 1831) was an English actor and theatre manager. He was born in London, the son of a watchmaker. He was educated at St Paul’s School, but ran away from home and made his first appearance on the stage as Tressel in Richard III at the Old Orchard Street Theatre in Bath in 1791. There he was later seen as Romeo, and in other leading parts, both comic and tragic, and he repeated his successes in London from 1796. In the same year he married Elizabeth, the sister of Mary Ann Rundall, and they would in time have ten children.

He acted at Drury Lane from 1804 to 1809, and again from 1812. From 1819 he was the lessee of the house, presenting Edmund Kean, Mme Vestris, and Macready.

He bought the Olympic Theatre in 1813 and also had an interest in a patent theatre, the Theatre Royal, Birmingham. Ill-health and misfortune culminated in his bankruptcy in 1826, when he made his last appearance at Drury Lane as Falstaff. As the lessee of the Surrey Theatre, he acted almost up to his death in 1831, which was hastened by alcoholism. At the Surrey, where he was the lessee first from 1806–14 and then again beginning in 1827, to avoid the patent restrictions on drama outside the West End, he presented Shakespeare and other plays accompanied by ballet music.

Leigh Hunt compared him favourably as an actor with David Garrick; Lord Byron thought him inimitable in high comedy; and Macready praised his versatility.

Elliston was the author of The Venetian Outlaw (1805), and, with Francis Godolphin Waldron, of No Prelude (1803), in both of which plays he appeared.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne

William Ridley engravings on Wikipedia

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02
Feb
20

European research tour exhibition: ‘William Blake’ at Tate Britain, London Part 2

Exhibition dates: 11th September 2019 – 2nd February 2020

Curators: Martin Myrone, Senior Curator, pre-1800 British Art, and Amy Concannon, Curator, British Art 1790-1850

 

Room 3 continued…

Patronage and independence

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Visions of divine damnation

I believe. I am a believer… a person who believes in the truth and/or existence of something, that ineffable something, that is the magic of the art of William Blake.

I believe that it would take a lifetime of scholarship to begin to fully understand the mythology, symbolism, and poetry of this man. I do not possess that knowledge. What I do posses is the ability to look at these images, process their form, colour, movement and, possibly, feel their spirit.

From academic beginnings Blake develops a unique artistic language. The rebellious, radical symbolism of his books, humanist veins, tap into the un/bound scrimmage of pleasure and pain, f(l)ights of good and evil told through visual poems, paeans to the diabolical munificence of the cosmos.

When I look at Blake I am swept along in the sensuous, writhing curves of the body. I feel their lyrical movement, whether they are partner to themes of childhood and morality, or suffering and social injustice for example. I feel that they touch my soul, deeply. Suffused with melancholy, damnation, joy, redemption and forgiveness his forms raise me up from the everyday. They challenge me to understand… to understand the work, myself and the world in which I live. They have as much relevance today as they ever did. They are revelatory.

The startling a/symmetry and interweaving of forms that characterises so much of his work is particularly affective. The symmetry of the hands in Small Book of Designs: Plate 11, Gowned Male Seen from behind (1794) with the diagonal sweep of the leg; the interwoven leg and arms of The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea (c. 1805); and the glorious design for The Angel Rolling away the Stone (c. 1805) with its suffused colour scheme and ethereal light are three examples in this rich tapestry of creation. His work seems to float as if a breathless cloud, suffused with sex and spiritual ecstasy, imbibing of the realm of the sublime and the imagination.

In this second part of the posting, most impressive were the twelve large colour prints (below), a series of 12 large ‘frescos’ as Blake called them. To stand in a gallery and be surrounded by such powerful images was incredible. One after the other took your breath away through their musical form and colour. The binary opposites of The Good and Evil Angels (1795 – c. 1805), the Active Evil angel – “strong, muscular, agile; but dirty, indolent and trifling” – with his sightless eyes transfixing you. The hybrid of man and beast that is Nebuchadnezzar (1795 – c. 1805), “crawling the Earth on his hands and knees, skin like hide, toes turning into griffin’s talons.” Or the question mark of the form that is Newton (1795 – c. 1805), which shows “the mathematician and physicist completely absorbed in a geometrical problem, oblivious to the wondrous rock on which he sits.” Blind to the wonders of the world, here scientific rationalism is seen to be inadequate without the imagination and the creativity of the artist. Just a small detail, but the colouration of the rocks behind Newton will long live in my memory for its delicacy and radiance – a colour print enhanced with additional watercolour on paper, almost sponged on, like the under/world sponges at the bottom of the sea.

Other highlights in the second half of the exhibition was a recreation of Blake’s 1809 solo exhibition at his home at 28 Broad Street, London. Even though the paintings have darkened significantly over the years, the installation gave you an idea of how the paintings, highlighted with gold leaf, would have looked through the filtered light of Georgian windows, or would have shimmered under candlelight, as your eyes strained to see the forms of his paradise / lost. Another physiognomic “vision” – “the stuff of delirium and nightmare, [which] taps into the unconscious, internalised sublime” – was the painting The Ghost of a Flea (c. 1819) used to illustrate John Varley’s Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy (1828). In studying the work of Blake for this posting, I found it instructive to look at Blake’s preparatory sketches for his works which can be found online. They give you a good idea of the spontaneity of the drawing and the ideas that arise, transformed into the finished work. Here in the graphite on paper drawing of The Ghost of a Flea we can see Blake’s initial vision, a more static, pensive figure with serrated wings which morphs into a muscular, blood sucking monster set on a cosmic stage, of life framed by curtains and a shooting star. As the vision appeared to Blake he is said to have cried out: ‘There he comes! his eager tongue whisking out of his mouth, a cup in his hand to hold blood, and covered with a scaly skin of gold and green.’

My favourite works in this exhibition were Blake’s two exquisite large paintings, The Virgin and Child in Egypt (1810) and An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man (? 1811). Bearing in mind that these two paintings would have darkened over time and the colours have changed, I was completely mesmerised by the intimacy of these images. The Mannerist hands and beatific nature of the first, and the Ascension of the figures in the second were completely sublime. His largest surviving canvases are RADIANT, all triangular structure, shimmering paint and Buddhist, Northern European iconography. That’s something that I did notice that hardly anyone talks about – how some of his figures echo the Zen-like quality of Buddhist painting.

His celestial bodies seem to exist in a place outside of this world, but they speak to us today as strongly as ever, of the trials and tribulations of our contemporary world – the struggle for the existence of life, of the animals and creatures of this planet, against the avarice of the rich and powerful, of nations and corporations that rape and pillage. Blake was an artist of the imagination rather than reason, a champion of creativity and feeling. Humanity, nature, creatures and creation are still the stuff of life on earth. Our life on earth.

I was so fully immersed in Blake’s world I did not want to leave. The spirit of this man and his work places him at the pinnacle of artistic creation, up there with Michelangelo and Rembrandt. At the time that Blake was working (and was considered a crackpot and mad), Beethoven was still conducting his own symphonies and dedicating his ‘Eroica’ (heroic) symphony to the tyrant Napoleon in 1804 before, in a fit of rage, scrubbing out Napoleon’s name after he ignominiously named himself Emperor. Both Blake and Beethoven were inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and the liberty of the common man. Just think about that.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,137

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. All other installation photographs as noted by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The curators of this colossal survey, the first on such a scale in nearly 20 years, are wise to point out the almost impenetrable complexities of Blake’s thinking from the start. Their aim is to throw the focus on his works as images, as opposed to emblems – tiny, teeming visions of gods, monsters and wild scenarios taking place at the bottom of the ocean or outer space, but above all in the free world of Blake’s imagination. …

And Blake’s art remains irreducibly strange. Familiarity cannot diminish the utter singularity of his home-grown aesthetic: heads floating on columns of transparent Lycra-like material, rippling up towards multicoloured skies or gathering in tumultuous spirals. Saints diving through the firmament, devils flickering like fire, angels back-crawling through transparent seas. Lone bodies are shown in convulsion, drowning, paralysed or hunched tight as padlocks. Unbound, they appear spreadeagled, levitating, or hurtling upwards like the bellowed flames up a chimney.”

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Laura Cumming. “William Blake review – a rousing call to arms,” on The Guardian website Sun 15 Sep 2019 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

 

Twelve large colour prints

Blake made these prints using a form of experimental monotype. This involved painting tacky ink onto a board and transferring it through pressure onto paper. He enhanced the basic printed image with ink and watercolour. The end result is very painterly, but with textures impossible to achieve by hand. Blake referred to these works as ‘frescos’. This reflects his wish to imitate the grand wall paintings of the ancient world and medieval times.

Thomas Butts purchased eight of these prints from Blake in 1805, and probably owned a full set. The subject matter comes from the Bible, Shakespeare and Milton, as well as Blake’s imagination. There is no definitive sequence. Scholars have connected the prints in many different, inventive ways. (Wall text)

A collection of twelve large prints by William Blake have been brought together at Tate Britain. Over 200 years old, these fragile works are normally only shown in small groups for short periods of time, making this an unmissable opportunity to see the remarkable full series together. The striking prints were sold by Blake as a group in 1805 and included one of his most iconic images, Newton 1795 – c. 1805. Produced using an experimental form of monotype printing that was enhanced with ink and watercolour, they appear painterly but with some extraordinary textures which would be impossible to achieve by hand. The collection draws inspiration from the world of science, the Bible, Shakespeare and Milton, as well as Blake’s own mind. Scholars have connected the prints in many different, inventive ways, but each image remains open to the viewers’ imagination.

Text from Tate Britain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Good and Evil Angels (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Good and Evil Angels
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
445 × 594 mm
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

 

In his annotations to a text by Lavater, Blake claimed that ‘Active Evil is better than Passive Good’, rendering the figures in this picture somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps the chain attached to the ‘evil’ angel’s ankle suggests the curtailing of energy by misguided rational thought?

In constructing his figures, Blake evokes conventional eighteenth century stereotypes. The heavy build and darker skin of the ‘evil’ angel suggest a non-European character, described by Lavater as ‘strong, muscular, agile; but dirty, indolent and trifling’, while the fair hair and light skin of the ‘good’ angel are consonant with ideas of physical – and intellectual – perfection.

Gallery label, March 2011

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Good and Evil Angels (installation views details)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing at left, Christ Appearing to the Apostles after the Resurrection (c. 1795) and at right, Nebuchadnezzar (1795 – c. 1805)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Nebuchadnezzar (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Nebuchadnezzar
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
54.3 x 72.5 cm
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Nebuchadnezzar (installation view details)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The king of Babylon is a terrible warning to us all: “those that walk in pride, the Lord can abase”. Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar has been so abased it is by now a hybrid of man and beast, crawling the Earth on his hands and knees, skin like hide, toes turning into griffin’s talons.

Laura Cumming. “William Blake review – a rousing call to arms,” on The Guardian website Sun 15 Sep 2019 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Newton' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Newton' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Newton (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Newton (1795 – c. 1805), the first impression, is another of Blake’s most famous images. It shows the brilliant mathematician and physicist completely absorbed in a geometrical problem, oblivious to the wondrous rock on which he sits. Its standard interpretation is that Newton’s scientific rationalism was inadequate without imagination and the creativity of the artist – a negative view of the man who is still considered a towering genius.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 5 – The large prints, 1795,” on The Electric Light Company website November 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Newton' 1795 - c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Newton
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
460 x 600 mm
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

 

In this work Blake portrays a young and muscular Isaac Newton, rather than the older figure of popular imagination. He is crouched naked on a rock covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused on a diagram which he draws with a compass. Blake was critical of Newton’s reductive, scientific approach and so shows him merely following the rules of his compass, blind to the colourful rocks behind him.

Gallery label, October 2018

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Newton' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Newton (installation view detail)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Tate Britain has reimagined Blake’s paintings on the grand scale he envisioned, alongside recreating the humble reality of the only exhibition he staged in his lifetime. For the 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 to be projected onto the gallery wall. The original paintings are shown nearby in a reconstruction of Blake’s ill-fated exhibition of 1809.

William Blake had grand ambitions as a visual artist and proposed vast frescos that were never realised. The artist suggested that Nelson and Pitt be executed 100-feet-high, following in the tradition of Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo and Raphael. Blake was confident he would ‘receive a national commission to execute these two pictures on a scale that was suitable to the grandeur of the nation’. However, the subjects he chose were ambiguous. Although depicting great British heroes of the time, each figure is shown commanding a vicious biblical beast, hinting at Blake’s own liberal and anti-war politics.

Blake first exhibited these images in 1809 above his family’s hosiery business in Soho. The architectural details of this small domestic space have been recreated at Tate Britain, allowing visitors to see the original works in context. The 1809 exhibition was a critical and commercial disaster and Blake consequently withdrew from public life. Attracting few visitors, the only review described ‘a few wretched pictures … a farrago of nonsense, unintelligibleness, and egregious vanity, the wild effusions of a distempered brain’.

Martin Myrone, Senior Curator, pre-1800 British Art, Tate said: “We are thrilled to celebrate Blake as a true visionary and to finally realise the full scale of his ambitions as a visual artist. It’s also important to set him in context, considering the reception of his work and how it was experienced by his contemporaries. Through the re-staging of the 1809 exhibition, as well as through the rare display of his illuminated books in their original bindings, visitors will be able to encounter Blake’s works as they were first seen over 200 years ago.”

Text from Tate Britain

 

Short Biography

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. What he called his prophetic works were said by 20th-century critic Northrop Frye to form “what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language”. His visual artistry led 21st-century critic Jonathan Jones to proclaim him “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”. In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. While he lived in London his entire life, except for three years spent in Felpham, he produced a diverse and symbolically rich œuvre, which embraced the imagination as “the body of God” or “human existence itself”.

Although Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterised as part of the Romantic movement and as “Pre-Romantic”. A committed Christian who was hostile to the Church of England (indeed, to almost all forms of organised religion), Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions. Though later he rejected many of these political beliefs, he maintained an amiable relationship with the political activist Thomas Paine; he was also influenced by thinkers such as Emanuel Swedenborg. Despite these known influences, the singularity of Blake’s work makes him difficult to classify. The 19th-century scholar William Michael Rossetti characterised him as a “glorious luminary”, and “a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmisable successors”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Pity (installation views)
c. 1795
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
425 x 539 m
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This image is taken from Macbeth: ‘pity, like a naked newborn babe / Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim horsed / Upon the sightless couriers of the air’. Blake draws on popularly-held associations between a fair complexion and moral purity. These connections are also made by Lavater, who writes that ‘the grey is the tenderest of horses, and, we may here add, that people with light hair, if not effeminate, are yet, it is well known, of tender formation and constitution’. Blake’s interest in the characters of different horses can also be seen in his Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims.

Gallery label, March 2011

 

And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. …

Act 1 Scene 7 of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Pity
c. 1795
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
425 x 539 m
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing at left, Satan Exulting over Eve (c. 1795) and at right, Lamech and his Two Wives (1795)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing at left, Lamech and his Two Wives (1795) and at right, Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab (c. 1795)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab' c. 1795 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab (installation views)
c. 1795
Colour print finished in pen and ink, shell gold and Chinese white on paper
42.5 x 60 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum. Given by J. E. Taylor, Esq, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab (c. 1795) is another first impression, showing a slightly more familiar Biblical narrative from the book of Ruth, chapter 1, verses 11-17. Naomi, seen at the left in a black robe, and her two daughters-in-law have become widowed. She decides to leave the land of Moab to return to her kin in Judah. Ruth, who is embracing her, remains devoted to Naomi, and returns with her, but Orpah, walking off to the right, decides to stay. Interestingly, because of her place in the lineage of David and so that of Jesus, Blake gives Naomi a halo, but not Ruth.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 5 – The large prints, 1795,” on The Electric Light Company website November 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab' c. 1795

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab
c. 1795
Colour print finished in pen and ink, shell gold and Chinese white on paper
42.5 x 60 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum. Given by J. E. Taylor, Esq, London
Image courtesy of and © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The House of Death (installation views)
1795 – c.1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Blake produced a number of designs relating to plague, war, fire and disaster … This design has been linked to the poet John Milton’s vision of a ‘Lazar House’ – a hospital for infectious diseases – from Paradise Lost (1664).

The English poet John Milton, who died in 1674, was viewed by Blake as England’s greatest poet, worthy of emulation but by no means above criticism. It was inevitable that in the large colour prints, his most important printing project, Blake would include Miltonic subjects.This print illustrates lines from Book XI of Milton’s poem Paradise Lost. The Archangel Michael shows Adam the misery that will be inflicted on Man now he has eaten the Forbidden Fruit. In a vision of ‘Death’s ‘grim Cave” Adam sees a ‘monstrous crew’ of men afflicted by ‘Diseases dire’.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

The House of Death (1795 – c. 1805), sometimes known as The Lazar House (a lazar is someone afflicted with a disease), is the first impression. It is a rather grim image taken from Milton’s Paradise Lost book 11, lines 477-493. There, the Archangel Michael shows Adam the afflictions that man will suffer in the form of disease, now that he has eaten the Forbidden Fruit. So rather than the bodies being dead, they are in the throes of suffering the diseases which have been unleashed following the Fall.

The similarity of the figure, who should (by Milton) be the Archangel Michael, to Blake’s images of Urizen, is clear, and may refer back to his illuminated books, and to the French Revolution.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 5 – The large prints, 1795,” on The Electric Light Company website November 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The House of Death
1795 – c.1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Elohim Creating Adam (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Elohim is a Hebrew name for God. This picture illustrates the Book of Genesis: ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground’. Adam is shown growing out of the earth, a piece of which Elohim holds in his left hand.

For Blake the God of the Old Testament was a false god. He believed the Fall of Man took place not in the Garden of Eden, but at the time of creation shown here, when man was dragged from the spiritual realm and made material.

Gallery label, May 2003

 

Elohim Creating Adam (1795, c 1805) is the only surviving impression of this work, which appears to have been listed by Blake as God Creating Adam. It is based on the book of Genesis chapter 2 verse 7:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Blake shows this fairly literally, with Adam’s body still being formed out of the earth, and a large worm (not a serpent) is coiled around his left leg. The worm is also a symbol of mortality.

Blake’s mythology for Elohim, the Hebrew word for God and judge, is different from the ‘standard’ Christian concept of God, and distinct from Urizen too. I am not convinced that Blake intended to show his Elohim or Urizen here, and therefore the work may better be titled simply as God Creating Adam.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 5 – The large prints, 1795,” on The Electric Light Company website November 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Elohim Creating Adam (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Horse' c. 1805 (installation view)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing The Horse c. 1805
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Quote above The Horse

 

 

“For when Los joind with me he took me in his firy whirlwind My Vegetated portion was hurried from Lambeths shades He set me down in Felphams Vale & prepard a beautiful Cottage for me that in three years I might write all these Visions To display Natures cruel holiness: the deceits of Natural Religion Walking in my Cottage Garden, sudden I beheld The Virgin Ololon & address’d her as a Daughter of Beulah.”

.
William Blake, from Milton a Poem, c. 1804-11

 

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Horse' c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Horse (installation view)
c. 1805
Tempera and ink on copper engraving plate
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Room 4

Independence and despair

The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents. & Genius – But whether he is Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass

.
This gallery traces a particularly tumultuous period in Blake’s life, from 1805 to 1812. In 1805 he secured work illustrating Robert Blair’s poem The Grave. Published in 1808, his designs were a critical success, praised by many leading artists and patrons. But Blake was disappointed that he did not get the work of engraving the illustrations as well as designing them. He also suspected the publisher, Robert Cromek, of stealing his idea to do an engraving of the pilgrims from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

In 1809 Blake organised a retrospective exhibition of his work. This was held in Broad Street, Soho, in the family home where his brother was now running the hosiery business. The exhibition catalogue set out his highly personal ideas about art and his ambitions as a painter of large-scale frescos. This room includes a recreation of the 1809 exhibition where you can experience Blake’s work as it would have been seen in Broad Street. There is also a projection showing his paintings at the gigantic scale he hoped to realise them.

The exhibition of 1809 was, however a critical and commercial disaster. Blake was bitterly disappointed and felt betrayed by his friends in the art world. Having made big claims about restoring ‘the grand style of Art’, he exhibited for the last time in 1812. He then withdrew from the public gaze for several years.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Death of the Good Old Man' 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Death of the Good Old Man' 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Death of the Good Old Man (installation views)
1805
Pen and ink and watercolour over traces of graphite on paper
Collection of Robert N. Essick
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Death of the Strong Wicked Man' 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Death of the Strong Wicked Man' 1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Death of the Strong Wicked Man (installation views)
1805
Ink, watercolour and graphite on paper Paris, Musée du Louvre, Départment of Arts graphiques
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Death of the Strong Wicked Man' 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Death of the Strong Wicked Man
1805
Ink, watercolour and graphite on paper Paris, Musée du Louvre, Départment of Arts graphiques
© Photo RMN – Gerard Blot

 

 

The Grave

The materials gathered here relate to Blake’s work for an edition of Robert Blair’s poem, The Grave, published in 1808. Blake scholars have not given these images as much attention as illustrations of his original writings. But he took this project seriously, and it secured him a degree of acclaim at a difficult time in his career.

The illustrations were commissioned by Robert Cromek in 1805. This was the first publishing venture of Cromek, an engraver. Blake quickly produced the 20 drawings. He may have been invigorated by the themes of Blair’s poem, a reflection on death and the afterlife.

Cromek promoted The Grave tirelessly, taking Blake’s work to new places and new publics. As well as displaying them at his London house, Cromek toured Blake’s designs to Birmingham and Manchester. The illustrations were generally well received, but Blake came to feel betrayed by Cromek, who employed the fashionable engraver Luigi Schiavonetti to produce the prints.

Wall text from the exhibition William Blake

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) A Title Page for 'The Grave' 1806 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) A Title Page for 'The Grave' 1806 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) A Title Page for 'The Grave' 1806 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
A Title Page for The Grave (installation views)
1806
Ink and blue watercolour on paper
238 × 200 mm
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The 1809 Exhibition

The space opposite evokes the upstairs rooms at 28 Broad Street, Soho, where Blake held his one-man exhibition in 1809. This was an ordinary London town-house, built in the 1730s. The Blake family had lived there since the 1750s. We know the proportions of the front room on the first floor from archival records and images. Visitors probably gained access to the exhibition through the hosiery shop downstairs. In 1809 this was being run by Blake’s brother, James. This was a strange setting for an art exhibition.

It was even stranger given the visionary character of Blake’s works and the gigantic ambitions he expressed in the accompanying Descriptive Catalogue. There were only a handful of visitors, and a single published review which dismissed Blake as ‘an unfortunate lunatic’. Every 20 minutes two works in this recreated exhibition will be virtually ‘restored’. They will be illuminated so you can see how they would have looked in 1809. You will also hear Blake’s words about these pictures, expressing his ambition to be a painter of large-scale wall paintings. Blake’s words are spoken by the actor Kevin Eldon.

The projection shows details from two of Blake’s paintings at the scale Blake hoped his work might one day be seen. They depict the ‘spiritual forms’ of the Prime Minster, William Pitt, and the naval hero, Admiral Nelson. In the catalogue of his 1809 exhibition, Blake wrote of his ambition to execute these and other paintings 30 metres high or more, for display in public buildings.

Many artists in Blake’s time aspired to such ambitious paintings, inspired by the high-minded rhetoric of the Royal Academy. But Blake himself observed: ‘The Painters of England are unemployed in Public Works’. There was no state support for artists, and little patronage from the monarchy or Church of England. Artists were instead freelancers, dependent on the market.

Despite his aspirations, Blake must have known that his dreams would never be fulfilled. After the failure of his one-man show in 1809 he became increasingly withdrawn and bitter.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Penance of Jane Shore in St Paul's Church' c. 1793

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Penance of Jane Shore in St Paul’s Church
c. 1793
Ink, watercolour and gouache on paper
245 × 295 mm
Tate
Presented by the executors of W. Graham Robertson through the Art Fund 1949
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Jane Shore was a mistress of King Edward IV. After his death in 1483 she was accused of being a harlot and condemned to do public penance in St Paul’s Cathedral. The ‘golden glow’ of this watercolour comes from a very thick, now-yellowed glue layer that was almost certainly applied as a varnish by Blake. He varnished his temperas in a similar way. Once it had yellowed someone else added a picture varnish on top. This also went yellow but has since been removed. The subtle colouring of Blake’s painting is suppressed by the glue varnish.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels' c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels
c. 1805
Ink and watercolour on paper
42.0 x 30.2 cm
Lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Ruth the Dutiful Daughter in Law' 1803

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Ruth the Dutiful Daughter in Law
1803
Wash, graphite, and coloured chalk on paper
Southampton City Art Gallery

 

 

Blake’s one-man exhibition was organised during a period of war and social upheaval. His imagery is spiritual and allegorical. It may appear disconnected from contemporary politics. But Blake imagined a public role for art. In connection with his watercolour of angels hovering over the body of Christ, on display here, he wrote: ‘The times require that every one should speak out boldly; England expects that every man should do his duty, in Arts, as well as in Arms, or in the Senate’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing the recreation of the 1809 exhibition. From left to right on the wall were: Satan calling up his Legions (1800-1805, our of shot); The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan (c. 1805-9); The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth (1805); and The Bard, from Gray (? 1809)

 

Frederick Adcock (British, 1864-1930) 'William Blake's house, Soho, London' 1912

Frederick Adcock (British, 1864-1930)
William Blake’s house, Soho, London
1912
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain
Birthplace of William Blake at No. 28 Broad (now Broadwick) Street, Soho, London. Demolished to make way for a block of flats.

 

 

28 Broad Street

Blake’s exhibition was held in the first-floor rooms of 28 Broad Street. The plasterwork and window surrounds were later 19th-century additions. In 1809 Blake’s sister, brother and his wife lived at this address and ran the hosiery and haberdashery shop on the ground floor.

 

 

“The execution of my Designs, being all in Water-colours, (that is in Fresco) are regularly refused to be exhibited by the Royal Academy, and the British Institution has, this year, followed its example, and has effectually excluded me by this Resolution … it is therefore become necessary that I should exhibit to the Public, in an Exhibition of my own, my Designs, Painted in Watercolours. If Italy is enriched and made great by RAPHAEL, if MICHAEL ANGELO is its supreme glory, if Art is the glory of a Nation, if Genius and Inspiration are the great Origin and Bond of Society, the distinction my Works have obtained from those who best understand such things, calls for my Exhibition as the greatest of Duties to my Country.”

.
William Blake, from ‘[Advertisement of] Exhibition of Paintings in Fresco, Poetical and Historical Inventions’, 1809

 

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan calling up his Legions (from John Milton's 'Paradise Lost')' 1800-1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan calling up his Legions (from John Milton's 'Paradise Lost')' 1800-1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Satan calling up his Legions (from John Milton’s Paradise Lost) (installation views)
1800-1805
Tempera and gold leaf on canvas
533 × 496 mm
National Trust Collections, Petworth House, (The Egremont Collection)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan' c. 1805-9

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan
c. 1805-9
Tempera and gold on canvas
762 x 625 mm
Tate. Purchased 1914

 

 

Blake showed this painting in his 1809 exhibition. It was exhibited alongside The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth. He provided a long commentary on his ‘spiritual forms’ of both Pitt and Nelson. The recently-deceased Prime Minster William Pitt and naval hero Admiral Nelson had both led Britain in the war against France. Blake shows these national figures guiding biblical monsters bringing chaos and destruction to the world. The symbolism used is complex. In the picture of Nelson ‘The Nations of the Earth’ are shown as contorted figures enveloped by the serpent. A figure of colour in chains lies collapsed at the bottom. He appears to be freed of the serpent’s coils, perhaps suggesting that such destruction could also lead to new freedoms and spiritual rebirth.

This work is cracked and damaged because Blake used a thin canvas and chalk-based ground. The ground layer has darkened due to the conservation treatment of ‘glue’ lining; this is only suitable for oil paintings. Layers of glue in some of Blake’s paints have also darkened. The orange tonality comes from remnants of a discoloured varnish. The contraction of the glue-rich layers and the movement of the thin canvas has created stress, causing cracking.

Gallery label, October 2019

 

Blake provided a long commentary on his ‘spiritual forms’ of Pitt and Nelson. The recently deceased Prime Minister William Pitt and naval hero Admiral Nelson had both led Britain in the war against France. Blake shows these national figures guiding biblical monsters bringing chaos and destruction to the world. The symbolism is complex. In the picture of Nelson ‘The Nations of the Earth’ are show as contorted figures enveloped by the serpent. A figure of colour in chains lies collapsed at the bottom. He appears to be freed of the serpent’s coils, perhaps suggesting that such destruction could also lead to new freedoms and spiritual rebirth. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth' 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth
1805
Tempera and gold on canvas
740 x 627 mm
Tate. Purchased 1882

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth' 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth
1805
Tempera and gold on canvas
740 x 627 mm
Tate. Purchased 1882
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain

 

The subject of this picture is the prime minister, William Pitt. Blake showed this work in his exhibition in 1809, describing Pitt as ‘that Angel who, pleased to perform the Almighty’s orders, rides on the whirlwind, directing the storms of war.’

Pitt had led Britain into war against France after the 1789 Revolution. Blake saw him as one ‘ordering the Reaper to reap the Vine of the Earth, and the Plowman to plow up the Cities and Towers’. The words reflect Blake’s apocalyptic vision of war. The huge beast, Behemoth, is under Pitt and at his command.

Gallery label, December 2004

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing paintings from the 1809 exhibition
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Understanding the objectives behind Blake’s exhibition is far from straightforward. Although this display of sixteen works could be considered as a retrospective exhibition, Blake seems to have had several principal aims. Both the exhibition advertisement issued by Blake and the text of the Descriptive Catalogue itself make clear that the works on display were for sale. At the same time Blake was promoting and seeking subscriptions for his engraving of the Canterbury Pilgrims (issued in 1810). Moreover, the exhibition displayed Blake’s painting of Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims (Pollok House, Glasgow) as a deliberate challenge to Thomas Stothard’s rival version of the same subject, The Pilgrimage to Canterbury 1806-7 (Tate). Blake complained that his works were not accepted by the two most important exhibition venues of the time, the Royal Academy and the British Institution, because they were in the form of watercolours (rather than oil paintings). That might seem to be motivation for setting up this independent show. However, his works had been accepted at the Royal Academy on six different occasions, the last time being the year before his 1809 exhibition. And the exhibition was promoting what Blake called his latest invention: the ‘portable fresco’ (a kind of tempera painting). Blake explained that he could enlarge such fresco works and decorate public buildings. The Spiritual Form of Nelson and The Spiritual Form of Pitt (nos. I and II in the Descriptive Catalogue) were intended as monuments to the heroes of his country. This aspiration, expressed amidst the Napoleonic wars, at a time of rampant nationalism when several public monuments were commissioned and executed by sculptors, shows that Blake was hoping to gain a state commission. He thus associated his fresco productions with patriotic works and the advancement of the English School of art.

Above all, however, I believe that Blake’s exhibition was intended to present Blake as a painter, and the ‘inventor’ of subjects and techniques. He asserted unequivocally that this was an exhibition of ‘paintings’ or ‘pictures’ and designated them as ‘poetical and historical inventions’. His portable fresco, for example, as Aileen Ward has argued, was Blake’s attempt, ‘to circumvent the Academy prejudice against watercolour’ in the hope of being elected at the Academy as a painter.

Extract from Kostantinos Stefanis. “Reasoned Exhibitions: Blake in 1809 and Reynolds in 1813,” Tate Papers no.14 Autumn 2010 on the Tate website [Online] Cited 26/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Bard, from Gray' ? 1809 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Bard, from Gray (installation view)
? 1809
Tempera and gold on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1920
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

A bad iPhone photo I know but it gives you an idea of how dark these paintings were

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Bard, from Gray' ? 1809

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Bard, from Gray
? 1809
Tempera and gold on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1920

 

 

This tempera has greatly altered since it was painted. Blake used a very thin, white, preparatory layer of chalk and glue. This was impregnated with more glue during a conservation ‘lining’ treatment more appropriate to an oil painting. This reduced the effect of transparent colours over a white background, and displaced some details painted in shell gold. Blake’s paint medium has also darkened greatly. The opaque red vermilion used for the line of blood, glazed over with madder lake, has survived better than blue areas.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing Blake’s work The Virgin and Child in Egypt (1810)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Virgin and Child in Egypt' 1810 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Virgin and Child in Egypt' 1810 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Virgin and Child in Egypt' 1810 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Virgin and Child in Egypt (installation views)
1810
Tempera on canvas
Lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This painting demonstrates Blake’s enduring ambition to work on a larger scale. He adopted the ‘Tüchlein’ technique of 16th-century Netherlandish painting, using tempera (glue-based paint) on linen. Blake had seen such paintings on the London art market. It is one of four life-size figure paintings done for Thomas Butts in 1810.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Virgin and Child in Egypt' 1810

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Virgin and Child in Egypt
1810
Tempera on canvas
Lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing Blake’s work An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man (? 1811)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man' ? 1811 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man' ? 1811 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man' ? 1811 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man' ? 1811 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man (installation views)
? 1811
Ink and tempera on canvas
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This is the largest surviving painting by Blake. The title is not Blake’s, and the subject matter remains open to interpretation. The symmetrical composition evokes large-scale European church paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

 

 

A new kind of man

After years of obscurity, Blake enjoyed a burst of creativity in the last ten years of his life. In 1818 he met a younger, more business-savvy artist, John Linnell. Together with fellow artists Samuel Palmer and John Varley, Linnell provided Blake with employment, friendship and a new sense of recognition.

Buoyed by their material and moral support, Blake produced some of his most extraordinary works. He completed his last and most ambitious illuminated book, Jerusalem, in 1820. He also found new purchasers for his older books and relief-etchings. He created a series of ‘visionary heads’ to indulge Varley’s spiritualist interests. For Linnell he made a long series of large and vivid watercolours illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy and engravings for the biblical Book of Job, undertaken in the antiquated style he had always admired.

Blake spent his last years living with Catherine in modest accommodation in Fountain Court off the Strand, with a view onto the Thames. For the younger, more materially successful artists who gathered around him, he represented an ideal of creative integrity and spiritual authenticity. Their memories of him have been crucial in shaping modern perceptions of the artist. An influential 1863 biography drew on Blake’s followers’ recollections of him as ‘a new kind of man, wholly original’.

Text from the Tate website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing in bottom image at second right, Capaneus the Blasphemer (1824-1827) and at fourth right, Cerberus (1824-7)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Capaneus the Blasphemer' 1824-1827

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Capaneus the Blasphemer
1824-1827
Illustration for The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Inferno XIV, 46-72)
Pen and ink and watercolour over pencil and black chalk, with sponging and scratching out
374 x 527 mm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Cerberus' (from Illustrations to Dante's 'Divine Comedy') 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Cerberus
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the the Art Fund 1919
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Cerberus, the terrifying three-headed monster, guards the circle of Hell where gluttons are punished.

Blake drew this design with charcoal as well as pencil and, later, pen and ink. The distant flames of Hell are contrasts of deep red vermilion, a brownish-pink lake pigment that is probably brazilwood, and yellow gamboge. Brazilwood was one of the cheaper and less popular red/pink lake colours. Blake was always careful not to overlay colours or drawing media. This served him in good stead here because, as he undoubtedly knew, charcoal tends to absorb a lot of colour from red lakes.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

Cerberus is the horrifying three-headed canine monster shown in Blake’s late illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy, painted between 1824-27. This refers to Dante’s Inferno, canto 6 verses 12-24, where Dante and Virgil enter the Third Circle, in which gluttons are punished. Blake is true to his source, except that he adds a cave to signify the weight of the material world. There are two versions of this painting: this in the Tate, and another in The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.

Cerberus is a good example of the redeployment of pre-Christian mythology into Christian beliefs: it was originally the guardian of the Underworld, and prevented those within from escaping back to the earthly world. It even features in the twelve labours of Heracles (Hercules), in which he captured Cerberus. Dante – with Virgil’s explicit involvement – incorporates it into his Christian concepts of the afterlife.

Most recently, Cerberus has been used in a more faithful transliteration from the Greek as Kerberos, a computer network authentication protocol. Such are the changes that have taken place in human mythology.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 16 – A miscellany,” on The Electric Light Company website December 28, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

 

Cerberus, cruel monster, fierce and strange,
Through his wide threefold throat, barks as a dog
Over the multitude immersed beneath.
His eyes glare crimson, black his unctuous beard,
His belly large, and claw’d the hands, with which
He tears the spirits, flays them, and their limbs
Piecemeal disparts. Howling there spread, as curs, ~
Under the rainy deluge, with one side
The other screening, oft they roll them round,
A wretched, godless crew.

 

 

The Divine Comedy

The last three years of Blake’s life were dominated by a major commission from Linnell. This was to illustrate The Divine Comedy by medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri. This epic poem describes a journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

Blake threw himself into the task and apparently learned Italian especially. The young artist Samuel Palmer observed him at work on the watercolours, ‘hard working on a bed covered with books… like one of the Antique patriarchs, or a dying Michael Angelo.’

In his designs Blake uses colour to convey the transition from dark, menacing Hell to luminous Paradise. No other British artist since Flaxman had attempted to illustrate the poem in its entirety. Sadly the project, totalling 102 watercolours and seven engravings, remained unfinished at Blake’s death. Even in its unfinished state, this series demonstrates the power of Blake’s imagination, his unceasing creative energy and technical skill. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing work from Blake’s The Divine Comedy
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Inscription over the Gate' 1824-7 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Inscription over the Gate (installation view)
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
527 × 374 mm
Tate
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Here Dante and his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, stand before the gates of Hell. The sublime landscape is populated by souls trapped in alternating circles of fire and ice.

Three quarters of Blake’s Divine Comedy illustrations depict Hell. Displayed nearby are Blake’s interpretations of its resident beasts and the various painful fates suffered by sinners. A corrupt Pope is plunged into a fiery pit, and a thief, Agnello Brunelleschi, undergoes a grotesque mutation, becoming half-man, half-serpent. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Inscription over the Gate' 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Inscription over the Gate
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
527 × 374 mm
Tate

 

 

In his Divine Comedy, Dante describes the pilgrimage he made with the poet Virgil, travelling into Hell, up the Mountain of Purgatory to reach Paradise at last. Entering the Gate of Hell was a moment when Dante (in red) wept with fear.

Dante describes the ‘dim’ colours which contribute to his terror. Blake’s dark shadows of pure black pigment next to areas of unpainted white paper contribute to this. He used Prussian blue for the blue areas, and indigo blue mixed with yellow for the green foliage, so that they contrast. The blue, green and vermilion red do not overlap.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

 

Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of Power divine,
Supremest Wisdom, and primeval Love.
Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

Such characters, in color dim, I mark’d
Over a portal’s lofty arch inscribed.

 

Dante is being led by Virgil, the Roman poet, through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Here they are shown entering the Gate of Hell. Once inside, they shall first pass through the region where the souls of the uncommitted (those who lived their lives without doing anything notably good or bad) reside. They shall then be ferried by Charon across the river Acheron into Hell proper. Virgil is the right-hand figure in blue, Dante the left-hand one in grey.

Notice how the greenery framing the outside of the gate contrasts with the bleak panorama of fire and ice inside. If you look carefully you can see tiny figures in torment on the hills. These successive hills represent the different circles of hell, where the souls of people guilty of different sins are punished in an appropriate manner. Those guilty of the sin of lust, for example, are buffeted about by the winds of passion and desire in the second circle.

Text from “William Blake’s illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 27/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati' 1824-7 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati (installation view)
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the the Art Fund 1919
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati' 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the the Art Fund 1919
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

In Hell, Dante and Virgil see a thief, in the guise of a serpent ‘all on fire’, preparing to attack another thief, named Buoso de’Donati.

Here Blake’s figures show subtle effects of light and shade, particularly in their flesh tones. He used small brushstrokes of red, blue and black for this, laying the colours side by side rather than mixing them. The robber Donati (right) is about to be punished by being turned into a serpent. Blake’s technique and colour give form to his figure, but the blue also shows human life draining away into coldness.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Lawn with the Kings and Angels' 1824-7 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Lawn with the Kings and Angels (installation view)
1824-7
Illustration for The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio VII, 64-90 and VIII, 22-48 and 94-108)
Ink and watercolour over black chalk and traces of graphite, with sponging on paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920
through the the Art Fund 1919
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Lawn with the Kings and Angels' 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Lawn with the Kings and Angels
1824-7
Illustration for The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio VII, 64-90 and VIII, 22-48 and 94-108)
Ink and watercolour over black chalk and traces of graphite, with sponging on paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920

 

 

Purgatorio VII, 64-90 and VIII, 22-48 and 94-108. The poets are now accompanied by Virgil’s fellow Mantuan, the poet Sordello and have come to a lawn scooped out from the mountainside. Here they see a group of Negligent Rulers singing sacred songs. Two angels appear with blunted, flaming swords to guard the kings from a serpent. Dante describes the richly coloured grass and flowers, but Blake shows the kings in a grove of trees, the symbol of error.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Matilda and Dante on the Banks of the Lethe with Beatrice on the Triumphal Chariot' 1824-1827 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Matilda and Dante on the Banks of the Lethe with Beatrice on the Triumphal Chariot' 1824-1827 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Matilda and Dante on the Banks of the Lethe with Beatrice on the Triumphal Chariot (installation views)
1824-1827
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Lent by The British Museum, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Matilda is a beautiful woman who represents the active life of the soul. She stands on the Earthly Paradise side of the river Lethe, and offers to answer Dante’s questions. She tells him to look at Beatrice’s procession, which can be seen in Blake’s painting behind Matilda. Blake illustrated Dante’s Divine Comedy in 1824, a commission he undertook in 1824 at the request of John Linnell. A reverse Newtonian rainbow hangs above the scene.

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882) 'William Blake wearing a hat' c. 1825 (installation view)

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882) 'William Blake wearing a hat' c. 1825 (installation view)

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882)
William Blake wearing a hat
c. 1825
Graphite on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Linnell made this seemingly spontaneous portrait of Blake during one of their regular walks on Hampstead Heath, to the north of London. Linnell, who lived by the Heath, was Blake’s most important friend during his final years. Their families became close and through Linnell Blake’s social circle expanded. He met landscape artist John Constable at Linnell’s house. Looking at Constable’s drawing of trees on Hampstead Heath, Blake exclaimed that it was ‘not drawing, but inspiration!‘ (Wall text)

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882) and John Varley (British, 1778-1842) 'The Blake / Varley Sketchbook' 1819 (installation view)

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882) and John Varley (British, 1778-1842)
The Blake / Varley Sketchbook (installation view)
1819
Book
Private collection

 

Varley gave Blake sketchbooks to record his nocturnal visions. This page shows Rowena, a Saxon queen renowned for her beauty.

 

 

The ‘Visionary Heads’

In October 1819 Blake began a series of extraordinary sketches of spirits. He claimed to have seen and even spoken with the spirits in ‘visions’. John Varley encouraged him. He provided Blake with drawing materials to make these so-called ‘Visionary Heads’. He also attended the séance-like sessions when the spirits appeared to Blake. Varley described sitting with Blake ‘from ten at night till three in the morning sometimes slumbering and sometimes waking, but Blake never slept’. According to Linnell, Varley believed in Blake’s visions ‘more than even Blake himself’.

Over a period of about six years Blake made over 100 ‘Visionary Heads’. They depict real historical figures such as medieval kings, as well as legendary characters like Merlin and a range of imagined beasts. Blake’s contemporaries debated whether his nocturnal visions were a sign of mental ill health or a charming quirk. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Ghost of a Flea' c. 1819 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Ghost of a Flea (installation views)
c. 1819
Tempera heightened with gold on mahogany
214 x 162 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Ghost of a Flea' c. 1819

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Ghost of a Flea
c. 1819
Tempera heightened with gold on mahogany
214 x 162 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949

 

 

The Ghost of a Flea is one of Blake’s most bizarre and famous characters. As the vision appeared to Blake he is said to have cried out: ‘There he comes! his eager tongue whisking out of his mouth, a cup in his hand to hold blood, and covered with a scaly skin of gold and green.’ John Varley watched Blake make the original sketch of this character. He also owned this painting showing the creature on a stage, flanked by curtains with a shooting star behind. Varley was a keen astrologer. He paid Linnell to engrave Blake’s drawings, including the Flea, to illustrate his Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy (1828). (Wall text)

Artist and astrologer John Varley encouraged Blake to sketch the figures, called ‘visionary heads’, who populated his visions. This image is the best known. While sketching the flea, Blake claimed it told him that fleas were inhabited by the souls of bloodthirsty men, confined to the bodies of insects because, if they were the size of horses, they would literally drain the population. Their bloodthirsty nature is shown by the eager tongue flicking at the ‘blood’ cup it carries. This intense disorientating image, the stuff of delirium and nightmare, taps into the unconscious, internalised sublime.

William Blake, The Ghost of a Flea c. 1819-20, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Ghost of a Flea' c. 1819 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Ghost of a Flea
c. 1819
Graphite on paper
Private collection
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Creation of Eve' 1822

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Creation of Eve
1822
Illustration for Paradise Lost by John Milton (VIII, 452-77)
Pen and brown and black ink and watercolour over pencil and black chalk, with stippling and sponging
50.4 × 40.7 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Creation of Eve' 1822 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Creation of Eve' 1822 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Creation of Eve (installation views)
1822
Illustration for Paradise Lost by John Milton (VIII, 452-77)
Pen and brown and black ink and watercolour over pencil and black chalk, with stippling and sponging
50.4 × 40.7 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils' c. 1826 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils' c. 1826 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils (installation views)
c. 1826
Ink and tempera on mahogany
Tate. Presented by Miss Mary H. Dodge through the Art Fund 1918
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils' c. 1826

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils
c. 1826
Ink and tempera on mahogany
Tate. Presented by Miss Mary H. Dodge through the Art Fund 1918
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

The first owner of this tempera was George Richmond, a member of the ‘Ancients’. This was a circle of young artists who gathered around Blake in the 1820s.

In the biblical text this work refers to, Satan is given permission by God to torture Job in order to test the limits of his faith. The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve and the set of engravings to the Old Testament Book of Job (displayed nearby) reprise work that Blake had made for Thomas Butts 20 years earlier. (Wall text)

The biblical ‘Book of Job’ addresses the existence of evil and suffering in a world where a loving, all-powerful God exists. It has been described as ‘the most profound and literary work of the entire Old Testament’. In ‘Job’, God and Satan discuss the limits of human faith and endurance. God lets Satan force Job to undergo extreme trials and tribulations, including the destruction of his family. Despite this, as God predicted, Job’s faith remains unshaken and he is rewarded by God with the restoration of his health, wealth and family. Here Blake shows Satan torturing Job with boils.

William Blake, Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils c. 1826, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve' c. 1826 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve' c. 1826 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve' c. 1826 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve (installation views)
c. 1826
Ink, tempera and gold on mahogany
Tate. Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the 1820s Blake’s work took on a richer appearance. He began to use more vibrant colour and to apply gold leaf more frequently. Another new practice was his use of a mahogany support. These innovations were perhaps inspired by Northern European art of the late 15th century, which adapted ideas of the Italian Renaissance. Blake and Linnell often visited such works in private and public collections across London. Blake’s use of gold may have been facilitated by the fact that one of his Fountain Court neighbours was a gilder. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve' c. 1826

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve
c. 1826
Ink, tempera and gold on mahogany
Tate. Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Pilgrim’s Progress

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come (1678) was a popular religious text in Blake’s day. It is not known why Blake embarked on this series of illustrations. They were left unfinished at his death.

Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a challenging journey. Taking place in the realm of a dream, it follows the character Christian as he travels from the City of Destruction (earth) to the Celestial City (heaven) in the hope of unburdening himself of his sins.

Although it contains some of Blake’s most imaginative and original imagery, Pilgrim’s Progress has not received the same level of attention as his other late projects. One reason for this may be that Catherine, Blake’s wife, is thought to have been involved in colouring the illustrations. For nearly all their married life Catherine helped Blake to print and hand-colour his works. Her creative and practical influence is only beginning to be fully appreciated. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Christian in the Arbour' 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Christian in the Arbour
1824-7
Illustration to Pilgrim’s Progress
Watercolour and ink over graphite and chalk on paper
Private collection

 

 

Reader! lover of books! lover of heaven,
And of that God from whom all books are given,
Who in mysterious Sinais awful cave
To Man the wond’rous art of writing gave,
Again he speaks in thunder and in fire!
Thunder of Thought, & flames of fierce desire:
Even from the depths of Hell his voice I hear,
Within the unfathomd caverns of my Ear.
Therefore I print; nor vain my types shall be:
Heaven, Earth & Hell, henceforth shall live in harmony
I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans

I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create

.
William Blake

 

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Jerusalem', plate 28, proof impression, top design only 1820

 

William Blake (British, 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)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Sea of Time and Space' 1821 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Sea of Time and Space (installation views)
1821
Ink, watercolour and body colour on gesso ground on paper
National Trust Collections, Arlington Court (The Chichester Collection)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The subject of this detailed and richly coloured painting is a mystery. It appears to relate to the theme of choice. The kneeling figure has been identified as divine inspiration and imagination. Its title comes from Blake’s poem Vala, or the Four Zoas and was only applied in 1949.

It is shown in its original frame, which was made by John Linnell’s father, the framer James Linnell. It is thought that Colonel John Palmer Chichester, of Arlington Court, may have purchased it directly from Blake. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe' Plate i: Frontispiece, 'The Ancient of Days' 1827 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe' Plate i: Frontispiece, 'The Ancient of Days' 1827 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe' Plate i: Frontispiece, 'The Ancient of Days' 1827 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
‘Europe’ Plate i: Frontispiece, ‘The Ancient of Days’ (installation views)
1827
Relief etching with ink and watercolour on paper
232 x 120mm
The Whitworth, The University of Manchester
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe' Plate i: Frontispiece, 'The Ancient of Days' 1827

 

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

 

 

Tate Britain’s major William Blake retrospective ends with what is believed to be the artist’s final work. On his deathbed, Blake is said to have coloured this impression of Ancient of Days 1827, claiming with satisfaction that it was ‘the best I have ever finished’. This ominous figure was created as a frontispiece for Blake’s 1794 prophetic book Europe a Prophecy. Along with its partner publication America, a Prophecy 1793, these epic and highly symbolic texts relate to the French revolution and revolutionary war in America respectively. Blake created several known versions of the work in his lifetime, including one thought coloured by his wife Catherine. One of Blake’s own favourite works, the image has since been embraced in popular culture and has been used to cover books and albums in recent years. It is reported that upon finishing this version the artist turned to Catherine, a constant source of support and inspiration, and proclaimed ‘you have ever been an angel to me’. He died only days later on 12 August 1827.

Text from Tate Britain

 

In his final days Blake is said to have coloured an impression of this work. He is reported to have claimed it ‘the best I have ever finished’. Though small in size it has become one of Blake’s best-known images. Its central figure is Urizen. He represents the scientific quest for answers. Urizen measures the world below with his golden compass. This act symbolises a threat to freedom of thought, imagination and creativity. For Blake, these were the cornerstones of human happiness. (Wall text)

The divine white-beard, reaching down from his burning disc to measure the Earth below with his shining dividers. For all the force and similarity, this is not in fact God but Blake’s Urizen, the despised personification of Reason and Science.

Laura Cumming. “William Blake review – a rousing call to arms,” on The Guardian website Sun 15 Sep 2019 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

 

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29
Jan
20

European research tour exhibition: ‘William Blake’ at Tate Britain, London Part 1

Exhibition dates: 11th September 2019 – 2nd February 2020

Curators: Martin Myrone, Senior Curator, pre-1800 British Art, and Amy Concannon, Curator, British Art 1790-1850

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This first of two parts of this humongous posting. This exhibition has to be one of the highlights of my (art) life. The techniques, the colours, the forms and the MAGIC of Blake’s compositions brought me to tears.

I will write more on the work in the second part of the posting.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. All other installation photographs as noted by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Every page is a window open in Heaven … interwoven designs companion the poems, and gold and yellow tints diffuse themselves over the page like summer clouds. The poems [of Songs of Innocence] are the morning song of Blake’s genius.”

.
W.B. Yeats

 

“Blake sang of the ideal world, of the truth of the intellect, and of the divinity of the imagination. … The only writer to have written songs for children with the soul of a child … he holds, in my view, a unique position because he unites intellectual sharpness with mystic sentiment.”

.
James Joyce

 

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain
© Tate
Photos: Seraphina Neville

 

 

Tate Britain presents 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 worldwide for over two centuries. This ambitious exhibition brings together over 300 remarkable and rarely seen works and rediscovers Blake as a visual artist for the 21st century.

Tate Britain reimagines the artist’s work as he intended it to be experienced. Blake’s art was a product of his tumultuous times, with revolution, war and progressive politics acting as the crucible of his unique imagination, yet he struggled to be understood and appreciated during his life. Now renowned as a poet, Blake also had grand ambitions as a visual artist and envisioned vast frescos that were never realised. For the first time, The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan c. 1805-9 and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth c. 1805 have been enlarged and projected onto the gallery wall on the huge scale that Blake imagined. The original artworks are displayed nearby in a re-staging of Blake’s ill-fated exhibition of 1809, the artist’s only significant attempt to create a public reputation for himself as a painter. Tate has recreated the domestic room above his family hosiery shop in which the show was held, allowing visitors to encounter the paintings exactly as people did over 200 years ago.

The exhibition also provides a vivid biographical framework in which to consider Blake’s life and work. There is a focus on London, the city in which he was born and lived for most of his life. The burgeoning metropolis was a constant source of inspiration for the artist, offering an environment in which harsh realities and pure imagination were woven together. Blake’s creative freedom was also dependent on the unwavering support of those closest to him: his friends, family and patrons. Tate Britain highlights the vital presence of his wife Catherine Blake who offered both practical assistance and became an unacknowledged hand in the production of the artist’s engravings and illuminated books. The exhibition showcases a series of illustrations to Pilgrim’s Progress 1824-27 and a copy of the book The Complaint, and the Consolation, or, Night Thoughts 1797, now thought to be coloured by Catherine.

William Blake was a staunch defender of the fundamental role of art in society and the importance of artistic freedom. Shaped by his personal struggles in a period of political terror and oppression, his technical innovation, and his political commitment, these beliefs have inspired the generations that followed and remain pertinent today. Tate Britain’s exhibition opens with Albion Rose c. 1793, an exuberant visualisation of the mythical founding of Britain, created in contrast to the commercialisation, austerity and crass populism of the times. A section of the exhibition is also dedicated to his illuminated books such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience 1794, his central achievement as a radical poet.

Additional highlights include some of Blake’s best-known works including Newton 1795 – c. 1805 and Ghost of a Flea c. 1819-20. This intricate painting 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, an illustration for an edition of Europe: A Prophecy, completed only days before the artist’s death.

William Blake at Tate Britain is curated by Martin Myrone, Senior Curator, pre-1800 British Art, and Amy Concannon, Curator, British Art 1790-1850. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Text from Tate Britain

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Albion Rose' c. 1793 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Albion Rose' c. 1793 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Albion Rose' c. 1793 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Albion Rose' c. 1793 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Albion Rose (installation views)
c. 1793
Colour engraving
250 x 211 mm
Courtesy of the Huntington Art Collections
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This image exemplifies how any single work by Blake might have multiple meanings. It can be related to several different strands within Blake’s poetry and thought. The figure has been reinterpreted many times, as a symbol of youthful rebellion, spiritual freedom and of creativity. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Albion Rose' c. 1793

 

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

 

 

William Blake

The art and poetry of William Blake have influenced generations. He has inspired many creative people, political radicals and independent minds. His images and words are admired around the world for their originality and spirituality.

Blake lived at a time of radical thought, war and global unrest. The British Empire was expanding. New ideas about social justice developed alongside rapid industrialisation. Blake created imaginative images and texts that resonated with this changing world. They drew on his deeply felt religious beliefs and personal struggles.

The exhibition is organised chronologically. It takes us through the ups and downs of Blake’s creative and professional life. The full range of Blake’s work is on display here. His commercial engravings, original prints, his unique ‘illuminated books’ and paintings are all included. These have been drawn from public and private collections from around the world. To preserve these rarely seen objects, the light levels across the exhibition are deliberately low.

Blake’s art and poetry have appealed to many kinds of people, for different reasons. His work has provoked diverse interpretations. This exhibition does not try to explain Blake’s imagery and symbolism in a definitive way.

Instead it considers the reception of his art and how it was experienced by his contemporaries. It sets out the personal and social conditions in which it was made. In doing so we hope to reveal the circumstances that gave Blake the freedom to create such innovative works. (Wall text)

 

Room 1

The art and poetry of William Blake have influenced generations. He has inspired many creative people, political radicals and independent minds. His images and words are admired around the world for their originality and spirituality.

Blake lived at a time of radical thought, war and global unrest. The British Empire was expanding. New ideas about social justice developed alongside rapid industrialisation. Blake created imaginative images and texts that resonated with this changing world. They drew on his deeply felt religious beliefs and personal struggles.

The exhibition is organised chronologically. It takes us through the ups and downs of Blake’s creative and professional life. The full range of Blake’s work is on display here. His commercial engravings, original prints, his unique ‘illuminated books’ and paintings are all included. These have been drawn from public and private collections from around the world. To preserve these rarely seen objects, the light levels across the exhibition are deliberately low.

Blake’s art and poetry have appealed to many kinds of people, for different reasons. His work has provoked diverse interpretations. This exhibition does not try to explain Blake’s imagery and symbolism in a definitive way. Instead it considers the reception of his art and how it was experienced by his contemporaries. It sets out the personal and social conditions in which it was made. In doing so we hope to reveal the circumstances that gave Blake the freedom to create such innovative works.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Joseph Making himself Known to his Brethren' 1784-5 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Joseph Making himself Known to his Brethren' 1784-5 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Joseph Making himself Known to his Brethren (installation views)
1784-5
India ink and watercolour over graphite on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing at left, Blake’s Joseph’s Brethren Bowing down before him (1784-5) and at right, Joseph Ordering Simeon to be Bound (1784-5)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The story of Joseph

Blake’s bitter view of the contemporary art world has its origins in the disappointments and frustrations he experienced early in his career.

In 1785 Blake exhibited these three watercolour designs showing the biblical story of Joseph. Blake showed them at the annual exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, the main showcase for contemporary art.

Students at the Academy were encouraged to depict serious, dramatic subject matter in a classical style. But these exhibitions were filled with more commercial artworks. The exhibition catalogue, also on display here, shows the dominance of portraits, landscapes and light-hearted ‘fancy’ subjects. Being watercolours, Blake’s designs were shown in a separate space where they got less public attention than the oil paintings in the main gallery. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Joseph's Brethren Bowing down before him' 1784-5 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Joseph's Brethren Bowing down before him' 1784-5 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Joseph’s Brethren Bowing down before him (installation views)
1784-5
India ink and watercolour over graphite on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London with at bottom middle, Drawing of the legs of Cincinnatus (c. 1779-80)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake wall text

 

William Blake wall text

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Drawing of the legs of Cincinnatus' c. 1779-80

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Drawing of the legs of Cincinnatus
c. 1779-80
Ink and wash over graphite on paper
Bolton Museum and Archive
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This intimate and apparently casually-drawn portrait shows Catherine Blake (née Boucher, 1762-1831). William and Catherine were married from 1782 until Blake’s death in 1827. Catherine played a huge part in Blake’s creative and commercial work. She helped him with printing and colouring his works, even finishing some of his drawings. Blake’s extraordinary vision depended on his partnership with Catherine. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Catherine Blake' 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Catherine Blake (installation view)
1805
Graphite on paper
286 x 221 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Catherine Blake' 1805

 

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

 

 

A portrait of William Blake, thought to be his only self-portrait, will be exhibited in the UK for the first time in a major survey of his work at Tate Britain. In the 200 years since its creation, the detailed pencil drawing only been shown once before and never in the artist’s own country. It offers a unique insight into the visionary painter, printmaker and poet responsible for some of Britain’s best loved artwork and will be displayed alongside a sketch of Blake’s wife Catherine from the same period, highlighting her vital contribution to his life and work.

Created when Blake was around 45 years old, the work is thought to present an idealised likeness. Rather than showing Blake as a painter or engraver, signs of his creative intensity are conveyed in his direct hypnotic gaze. This compelling image was produced after 1802, at a turning-point in Blake’s life. Having lived in Sussex for three years and been falsely accused of treason, Blake returned to his native city of London and was re-establishing himself as an artist. The portrait shows Blake as an isolated and misunderstood figure.

A crucial presence in Blake’s life, Catherine offered both practical assistance and became an unacknowledged hand in the production of his engravings and illuminated books. His visual art and poetry began to develop in original ways only after their marriage in 1782. At the time she was illiterate but learnt to read and write with her husband and became an accomplished printmaker in her own right. Together, these rare examples of Blake’s portraiture highlight the ways in which his extraordinary vision was dependent on the domestic stability of his life with Catherine.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Portrait of William Blake' c. 1802 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Portrait of William Blake (installation view)
c. 1802
Graphite with black, white and grey washes on paper
Collection of Robert N. Essick
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This is probably a self-portrait drawn by Blake when he was in his 40s. It does not present him in the act of writing or drawing. Instead, the image invites us to see his intense gaze as a sign of his creative force. This perhaps reflects his claim that he saw visions. Blake’s art and personal behaviuor divided contemporary opinion. A few friends and supporters accepted him as a genius. Many others considered him eccentric or questioned his mental health. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Portrait of William Blake' c. 1802

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Portrait of William Blake
c. 1802
Graphite with black, white and grey washes on paper
Collection of Robert N. Essick
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

‘Blake be an artist!’

Blake was born in London in 1757, the son of a fairly successful shopkeeper in Broad Street, Soho. Blake wanted to be an artist from an early age. His family indulged his passion. They bought prints and plaster casts for him to copy, paid for drawing lessons and funded his training as an apprentice engraver. In 1779 he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy of Arts. This gallery explores the art he created in the years that followed. It was during this time that he developed his ambitions as an original artist and poet.

The Royal Academy encouraged its students to imitate the great art of the past. They were expected to copy antique sculptures and look to Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Raphael for inspiration.

Blake later rejected the more rigid ideas associated with Academic teaching. He sought to create a more personal vision and began to identify with the ‘Gothic’ artists of the medieval past. He felt the Academy was being taken over by portrait painters motivated by self-interest. But he did admire some ambitious and individualistic figures there. These included James Barry and Henry Fuseli. Blake took seriously their ideas about painting great public works full of moral purpose and drama. The conflict between such aims and the realities of a cynical and market-driven art world would be a shaping force in Blake’s creative life. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Academy Study' 1779-80 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Academy Study (installation view)
1779-80
Graphite on paper
Lent by the British Museum, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Early drawings and watercolours

Blake’s earliest drawings typically used sweeping lines and areas of grey washed ink or watercolour. His figures make grand gestures in bare, even abstract, settings.

His style was based on the innovative art of the 1760s and 1770s, especially the drawings of James Barry, Henry Fuseli, and John Flaxman. They became well known for creating works with strong visual and emotional impact and communicating ideas in a bold way.

Blake’s subjects were often drawn from history, literature and the Bible. This was in keeping with the teaching of the Royal Academy and traditional ideas about ‘high art’. However, Blake’s subject matter from these early years is sometimes unclear. Spiritual forms, ghosts and visions start to appear. This means that the story and meaning of his individual works can be difficult to decipher. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing Blake’s Age Teaching Youth (c. 1785-90)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Bible' c. 1780-85 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
An Allegory of the Bible (installation view)
c. 1780-85
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate, Bequeathed by Miss Rachel M. Dyer 1969
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Blake started using more colours in the mid-1780s. The mysterious subject matter of this design is new as well. The title is not the artist’s own. It was added by later commentators, as is often the case with Blake’s symbolic designs. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Bible' c. 1780-85

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
An Allegory of the Bible
c. 1780-85
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate, Bequeathed by Miss Rachel M. Dyer 1969

 

 

The title of this work is not Blake’s, but its theme seems to be the revelation of knowledge.

Unusually, the foreground and background were both painted initially with a single base colour. The figures and the screen behind those in the background were applied straight onto the white paper. The screen and the lower half of the sky behind it were originally painted a deep rose, with a red lake pigment that is probably brazilwood. This has lost so much colour, except at the edges, that it gives the unintended effect of a flat brown base tone to the whole screen.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing Blake’s The Good Farmer, Probably the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (c. 1780-85)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

This is an illustration of one of Christ’s parables, which appears in several biblical sources.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good Farmer, Probably the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares' c. 1780-85 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Good Farmer, Probably the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (installation view)
c. 1780-85
Ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London Photo: Marcus Bunyan

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Tiriel

In the late 1780s Blake had established a reputation as a designer and poet among a small circle of friends. He began writing an epic poem, which he also intended to illustrate. It is not clear how Blake would have funded the production of an illustrated edition and it was not published.

Blake’s manuscript and many of the surviving drawings are displayed here. The story combined elements of Greek tragedy and Shakespeare. It also drew on supposedly ancient Gaelic stories (actually composed by the Scottish writer James Macpherson in the 1760s). The narrative concerns a king, now blind, his arguments with his sons and daughters, and his encounter with his elderly parents, Har and Heva. The language is dramatic, with exaggerated imagery suggesting surging emotions, ‘Thunder & fire & pestilence’.

The project represents the culmination of Blake’s early efforts as a painter and poet. It also exposes how his ambitions to combine epic images and texts were frustrated by conventional publishing techniques. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing' c. 1786

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing
c. 1786
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 475 × 675 mm
Tate. Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

The subject is from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream illustrating Titania’s instruction to her fairy train in the last scene:

Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
Will we sing, and bless this place.

Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies, are on the left. Puck, the perplexer of mortals, faces us. The fairies Moth and Peaseblossom are easily identifiable.

During the 1780s there was a growing taste for Shakespeare illustrations. Blake had formed a print-publishing partnership in 1784. If the approximate dating of this work is correct, it may represent an attempt by Blake to break into this market.

Supernatural and fantastical subject matter like this enjoyed great popularity in Blake’s time.

Wall text from the exhibition and gallery label, August 2004

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing' c. 1786 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing' c. 1786 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing (installation view details)
c. 1786
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 475 × 675 mm
Tate. Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation views of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe, A Prophecy (Copy E)' 1794 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe, A Prophecy (Copy E)' 1794 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Europe, A Prophecy (Copy E) (installation views)
1794
Book, 17 plates on 10 leaves
Open to plates 17: Ethinius queen of waters... and 18 Shot from the heights of Enitharrnon
Relief and white-line etching with colour printing and hand colouring
Library of Congress. Lessing J. Rosenwald collection, 1806
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe, A Prophecy (Copy A)' 1794 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe, A Prophecy (Copy A)' 1794 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Europe, A Prophecy (Copy A) (installation views)
1794
Book, 17 plates on 17 leaves
Open to Plate 2, title page
Colour-printed relief etching in dark brown with pen and black ink, oil and watercolour on paper
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Europe, A Prophecy relates contemporary historical events – specifically the French Revolution – in an epic, symbolic form. As Blake’s biographer Alexander Gilchrist (1828-1861) observed of the book: ‘It is hard to describe poems wherein the dramatis personae are giant shadows, gloomy phantoms; the scene, the realms of space; the time, of such corresponding vastness, that eighteen hundred years pass as a dream’. Catherine Blake is likely to have coloured many of the plates in this copy, including the title page. This copy, may be that bought from Blake by the painter George Romney (1734-1802). (Label text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'First Book of Urizen' pl. 6 1796, printed c. 1818

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
First Book of Urizen pl. 6 ‘I sought Pleasure & found Pain, Unntennable’
1796, printed c. 1818
Etching with paint, watercolour and ink on paper
Tate. Purchased with funds provided by the Art Fund, Tate Members, Tate Patrons, Tate Fund and individual donors 2009
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The First Book of Urizen (Copy G)' 1794, printed c. 1818 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The First Book of Urizen (Copy G)' 1794, printed c. 1818 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The First Book of Urizen (Copy G) (installation views)
1794, printed c. 1818
27 leaves, open to plate number 14
Relief etching printed in yellow brown with watercolour and gold
Library of Congress. Lessing J. Rosenwald collection, 1807
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

During his lifetime, Blake’s books were appreciated by collectors for their visual qualities far more than for their political and literary content. The First Book of Urizen was first printed in 1794. It was already strongly visual. In this new copy, printed in around 1818, Blake has enhanced this full-page image with intense colouring and gold. (Label text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Copy H)' c. 1790 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Copy H)
c. 1790
Book, 27 plates on 15 leaves
Open to title page
Relief etching with hand-colouring
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Copy B)' c. 1790 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Copy B)' c. 1790 (installation view)

William Blake label text

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Copy B) (installation views)
c. 1790
Book, 27 plates on 15 leaves
Open to A Memorable Fancy
Relief etched plates in coloured inks with gluebased pigments and hand-colouring paper
Bodlieian Libraries, University of Oxford
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A Memorable Fancy describes Blake’s invention of relief etching in symbolic terms. His text does little to explain his process practically. Blake’s commitment to individualism and rebellious nature are present in this description of art-making as an experimental and inspired process. This copy belonged to the scholar and collector Francis Douce (1757-1834) and may be in his original binding. (Label text)

 

Relief etching

Blake conceived his technique of relief etching in around 1788. He claimed this was under the inspiration of his brother Robert, who had died in 1787. The technical details of his method have long fascinated and frustrated scholars and collectors and remain debated.

Engraving and etching involve making lines in a copper plate which are filled with ink to create the printed image. Relief etching, on the other hand, involves using acid to eat away areas of the plate that you want to leave unprinted. The remaining surfaces are inked and printed. Relief etching allowed Blake to combine hand-written texts and images on a single plate. These were normally entirely separate processes. Blake also experimented in printing with colours, and added pen and ink, watercolour and later on gold to create more dense, painterly images. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Book of Thel (Copy I)' c. 1789 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
There is no Natural Religion (Copy B) (installation view)
c. 1788 (composition date)
c. 1794 (print date)
Book, 11 plates on 11 leaves
Open to Plate 10. I Mans Perceptions are not Bounded…
Colour-printed relief etching on paper
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

This collection of short philosophical statements was one of Blake’s first experiments in relief etching. This copy, printed in coloured inks, was produced in 1794. (Label text)

 

 

Room 2

Making prints, making a living

 

“I curse & bless Engraving alternately because it takes so much time & is so untractable.
tho capable of such beauty & perfection”
.
William Blake

.
Blake was trained as a reproductive engraver. This exacting craft involved copying an image by cutting fine lines onto a metal plate so that it could be printed and reproduced many times. Blake enjoyed the precision of this work. He gained a good reputation and engraving provided him with an income throughout his life. He was sometimes employed to design as well as engrave illustrations, and for a short period from 1784 ran his own print publishing business with his friend and fellow engraver James Parker.

While Blake admired the uncompromising qualities of older prints, the market favoured more obviously decorative techniques. Blake could adapt his style, but he found the limitations of commercial work frustrating.

Around 1788 Blake invented a new form of printmaking, ‘relief etching’. He described the technique in poetic rather than practical terms so his exact methods remain mysterious. The process allowed Blake to print in colour and combine texts and images. Blake used the technique to create a succession of visionary books. These engaged with the most pressing moral and political questions of the day, including revolution, sexual freedom and the slave trade. Blake’s illuminated books combined poetry and images in experimental ways. His images rarely illustrate the text directly. He also printed some of the images separately without words. Later in life Blake continued to print copies for fellow artists and rare book collectors, adding richer colours and gold to make them more visually enticing. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion' c. 1810 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion (installation view)
c. 1810
Engraving using carbon ink on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion' c. 1810

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion (installation view)
c. 1810
Engraving using carbon ink on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Los and Orc' c. 1792-3

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Los and Orc
c. 1792-3
Ink and watercolour on paper
217 × 295 mm
Tate. Presented by Mrs Jane Samuel in memory of her husband 1962
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

This watercolour represents a turning-point in Blake’s art because it depicts a subject taken from his invented mythology which he used across the illuminated books. The figures appear to be the characters Los, representing imagination, and the chained Orc, the spirit of rebellion. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Hell beneath is Moved for thee, to Meet thee at thy Coming Isaiah, xiv, 9' c. 1780-85 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Hell beneath is Moved for thee, to Meet thee at thy Coming (installation view)
Isaiah, xiv, 9
c. 1780-85
Ink and grey wash on toned paper
Lent by her Majesty The Queen
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Lucifer and the Pope in Hell' c. 1794-96

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Lucifer and the Pope in Hell
c. 1794-96
Etching or engraving printed in colour with gum or glue-based pigments and hand-finished with watercolours and ink on paper
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This image was produced using Blake’s relief etching method, printed in colour with additional pen and ink and watercolour, to create a dense, painterly effect. It is based on an earlier drawing. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Frontispiece to ‘Visions of the Daughters of Albion’ (installation view)
c. 1795
Relief etching, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Plate 4 of ‘Visions of the Daughters of Albion’ (installation view)
c. 1795
Relief etching, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) Frontispiece to 'Visions of the Daughters of Albion' c. 1795 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Frontispiece to ‘Visions of the Daughters of Albion’ (installation view)
c. 1795
Relief etching, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Small Book of Designs: Plate 7, ‘Of life on his forsaken mountains’ (installation view)
1794
Colour-printed relief etching with hand-colouring, on paper
Lent by the British Museum, London

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Small Book of Designs: Plate 8, ‘dark seascape with figure in water’ (installation view)
1794
Colour-printed relief etching with hand-colouring, on paper
Lent by the British Museum, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) Small Book of Designs: Plate 7, 'Of life on his forsaken mountains' 1794 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Small Book of Designs: Plate 7, ‘Of life on his forsaken mountains’ (installation view)
1794
Colour-printed relief etching with hand-colouring, on paper
Lent by the British Museum, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'A Small Book of Designs copy A object 7 The First Book of Urizen plate 23' 1796

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
A Small Book of Designs copy A object 7 The First Book of Urizen plate 23
1796
Colour-printed relief etching with hand-colouring, on paper
The William Blake Archive, The British Museum
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) Small Book of Designs: Plate 8, 'dark seascape with figure in water' 1794 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Small Book of Designs: Plate 8, ‘dark seascape with figure in water’ (installation view)
1794
Colour-printed relief etching with hand-colouring, on paper
Lent by the British Museum, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) Small Book of Designs: Plate 9, 'Lo, a shadow of horror' 1794 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Small Book of Designs: Plate 9, ‘Lo, a shadow of horror’ (installation view)
1794
Colour-printed relief etching with hand-colouring, on paper
Lent by The British Museum, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) Small Book of Designs: Plate 11, 'Gowned Male Seen from behind' 1794 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Small Book of Designs: Plate 11, ‘Gowned Male Seen from behind’ (installation view)
1794
Colour-printed relief etching with hand-colouring, on paper
Lent by The British Museum, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Book of Thel, Plate 6' 1796, c. 1818 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Book of Thel, Plate 6' 1796, c. 1818 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Book of Thel, Plate 6' 1796, c. 1818 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Book of Thel, Plate 6 ‘Doth God take Care of these’ (installation views)
1796, c. 1818
Etching with paint, watercolour and ink on paper
Tate. Purchased with funds provided by the Art Fund, Tate Members,Tate Patrons, Tate Fund and individual donors 2009
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Copy A, Plate 7 in 'The First Book of Urizen' 1794 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Copy A, Plate 7 in ‘The First Book of Urizen’ (installation view)
1794
Colour relief etching predominantly in black, grey and pink, with hand-colouring, on paper
Lent by The British Museum, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) Copy A, plate 12, Design from 'Preludium' in 'The First Book of Urizen' 1794 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Copy A, plate 12, Design from ‘Preludium’ in ‘The First Book of Urizen’ (installation view)
1794
Colour-printed relief etchings with hand-colouring, on paper
Lent by The British Museum, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'First Book of Urizen, Plate 10' 1796, c. 1818

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'First Book of Urizen, Plate 10' 1796, c. 1818

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
First Book of Urizen, Plate 10 ‘Every thing is an attempt, To be Human’ (installation views)
1796, c. 1818
Etching with paint, watercolour and ink on paper
Tate. Purchased with funds provided by the Art Fund, Tate Members, Tate Patrons, Tate Fund and individual donors 2009
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
First Book of Urizen, Plate 10 ‘Every thing is an attempt, To be Human’
1796, c. 1818
Etching with paint, watercolour and ink on paper
Tate. Purchased with funds provided by the Art Fund, Tate Members, Tate Patrons, Tate Fund and individual donors 2009
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

“I was in a Printing house in Hell, & saw the method in which knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.”

.
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell c. 1790

 

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'First Book of Urizen, Plate 15' 1796, c. 1818 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'First Book of Urizen, Plate 15' 1796, c. 1818 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'First Book of Urizen, Plate 15' 1796, c. 1818 (installation view)

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