Posts Tagged ‘British painting

19
Jun
22

Exhibition: ‘Walter Sickert’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 18th September 2022

Curators: The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers (Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain), Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (Curator of Drawings / Conservatrice des Arts Graphiques at Musée d’Orsay) and former Curator, British Art, 1850-1915 at Tate Britain), the late Delphine Lévy (former Executive Director, Paris Musées) and Thomas Kennedy (Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain).

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Red Shop (or The October Sun)' c. 1888

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Red Shop (or The October Sun)
c. 1888
Oil on canvas
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norfolk Museums Service

 

 

I believe that Walter Sickert is an interesting and boundary pushing artist – but I remain ambivalent as to whether I like this attention seeking European modernist, this “self-proclaimed realist and literary painter with an interest in narrative” with his penchant for working-class urban culture and its “dank land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gaslit pubs,” its opium dens, street gangs and prostitutes, its black fogs and murders.

On the one hand I like the chthonic [relating to or inhabiting the underworld] darkness of his paintings, and their earthiness and essentialness, for Sickert is a chthonic deity [from Greek khthōn ‘earth’] grounded in the earth. His self-portraits appear as dark, almost eyeless creatures metastasizing from the Stygian gloom like a London pea souper fog – black fog, black dog examinations of the inner self interpreted as performances of identity. His paintings of the ghouls in the galleries at theatres are masterful in their use of colour, light and form – soaring to the heavens or buried like children in a mine, as in The Gallery at the Old Mogul (1906, below).

I am much less certain about other elements of his painting, such as the objectification of women in the numerous nudes, laid out for the viewers delectation. As Jonathan Jones observes,

“These are truly shocking images, more than a century on. Yet they have affinities with some of the greatest modern art, as the exhibition demonstrates. Sickert was strongly influenced by Degas, and in turn influenced Lucian Freud – there are nudes here by both for comparison.

The most appalling aspects of Sickert’s nudes are also their artistic strength. He rejects the phoney academic nude for raw naked reality – he even wrote an essay explaining this aesthetic. This is why he depicts women, more literally perhaps than any artist, as objects: because the body is an object, it is meat. Francis Bacon would agree with him.”1

.
Francis Bacon would of course agree with him, but there is an essential difference… Bacon was a male dissecting male bodies; in Sickert’s fantasy world of murder and voyeurism, it is the male gaze looking at a disempowered and dismembered female body and his paintings “are shot through with suppressed malevolence – a horrible aura of voyeurism, encroachment or outright violence.” While the nude paintings can be seen as essential and earthy challenging the conventional approach to life painting – “The modern flood of representations of vacuous images dignified by the name of ‘the nude’ represents an artistic and intellectual bankruptcy” –  the energy which emanates from these paintings is perverse, like a butcher selling putrid meat which gives off a fecund but malodorous smell. According to Australian artist Elizabeth Gertsakis, there is a deep psychopathology present in Sickert’s work: “there are no ‘souls’ in Sickert’s art, nor is there redemption. There is despair, degeneracy and a kind biblical vengeance without the costume-play of the Testaments.”2

Finally, the late photo-based paintings from the late 1920s and 30s which would have astounded at the time of their creation, today feel frozen and stilted – the beginning of pastiche painting which lives on in the contemporary portraiture of Australia’s Archibald prize for example, where “we see the usual clumsily drawn figures; the usual ‘kooky’ whimsy; the usual ham-fisted, photo-based ‘realism’ (always the last bastion for the conceptually limited painter!). All of them dead in the water before they are even unwrapped for the scrutiny of the dull-eyed panel. Before they have even left the easel, in fact.”3 As Steve Cox observes, portrait ‘Painting’ become portrait ‘Illustration’ blossomed into its full-blown, grotesque, nadir.

Nevertheless, there are moments of sublime ecstasy in some of Sickert’s realist, narrative elegies: the red dress of Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford (1892, below); the “dynamic evocation of the local fair in Dieppe” with its background “enriched with acidic greens, lurid yellows and vivid scarlets” in The Fair at Night (c. 1902-1903, below); the gold decoration of the arch in The Horses of St Mark’s, Venice (c. 1901-1906, below); and the poignancy of the emaciated figure that is Aubrey Beardsley (1894, below), a haunting appearance suggested by the deftest and most skilful application of paint in search of a soul that you are ever likely to see.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Jonathan Jones. “Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater? This hellish, brilliant show only leaves questions,” on The Guardian website Tue 26 Apr 2022 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022
  2. Elizabeth Gertsakis in conversation with Marcus Bunyan 19/06/2022
  3. Steve Cox. “Thoughts on the Anti-Art Event, the Archibald Prize,” on Facebook May 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

.
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.

 

Discover the boundary-pushing paintings by one of Britain’s most influential artists

Walter Sickert is recognised as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, having helped shape modern British art as we know it. With ties to renowned painters from James Abbott McNeill Whistler to Edgar Degas, he strengthened the artistic connections between Britain and France and continues to influence contemporary painters to this very day.

The first major retrospective of Sickert at Tate in over 60 years, this exhibition explores how he had an often radical, distinctive approach to setting and subject matter. From working off detailed sketches to taking inspiration from news photography, these were the tools he used to depict his vision of everyday life.

A former actor, he had a flair and fascination for all things theatrical, including performers in music halls crafted on canvas, and nude portraits staged in intimate, domestic settings. His imagination was also fuelled by current events including the rise of celebrity culture, and he used this to create compelling narratives.

Much like the man, his art was complex. Creative and colourful, his body of work was ever-changing and can be interpreted in different ways. His own self-portraits, for example, showcase how he evolved throughout his career – from his beginnings as an actor and artistic apprentice, to becoming one of the most gifted and influential artists of his time.

 

 

This sense of a narrative runs against the grain of what has come to be construed as ‘modern’ in modern art. But Sickert insisted that ‘All the great draughtsmen tell a story’.16 He maintained that no country could have a great school of painting when the unfortunate artist was confined ‘to the choice between the noble site as displayed in the picture-postcard, or the quite nice young person, in what Henry James has called a wilderness of chintz’.17 He was a self-proclaimed realist and literary painter with an interest in narrative and an obsession with facture [i.e. the quality of the execution of a painting; an artist’s characteristic handling of the paint]. (He called it ‘the cooking side of painting’.18) He did not believe in severing subject and treatment:

“Is it not possible that this antithesis is meaningless, and that the two things are one, and that an idea does not exist apart from its exact expression? … The real subject of a picture or a drawing … and all the world of pathos, of poetry, of sentiment that it succeeds in conveying, is conveyed by means of the plastic facts expressed … If the subject of a picture could be stated in words there had been no need to paint it.”

.
It is in this sense – rather than in any quibbling as to the recorded details of Emily Dimmock’s murder in 1907 – that Sickert’s paintings are not illustrations. They cannot be decanted into words. And they do not use the available ‘language’ of illustration for sensational events, evident in the depictions of the Camden Town Murder in such publications as the Illustrated Police Budget and News.20 But their subject matters.

.
Walter Sickert, ‘The Language of Art’, New Age, 28 July 1910, quoted in Osbert Sitwell (ed.), A Free House! or The Artist as Craftsman: Being the Writings of Walter Richard Sickert, Macmillan, London 1947, p. 89 in Lisa Tickner. “Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Murder and Tabloid Crime,” on the Tate website Nd [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait)' 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait)
1907
Oil on canvas
Southampton City Art Gallery

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self-portrait' c. 1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self-portrait
c. 1896
Oil on canvas
Leeds Art Gallery
© Bridgeman images

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers' c. 1913-1915

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers
c. 1913-1915
Oil on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

 

Walter Sickert | Trailer | Tate

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall 1888-1889 below; at and right, The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror c. 1888-1889 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall' 1888-1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall
1888-1889
Oil on canvas
Private collection
Photo: James Mann

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror' c. 1888-1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror
c. 1888-1889
Oil on canvas
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Edgar Degas’ The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Robert le Diable” 1876, below; and at right, Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall 1888-1889 above

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917) 'The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera "Robert le Diable"' 1876

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Robert le Diable”
1876
Height: 76.6cm (30.1 in)
Width: 81.3cm (32 in)
Victoria and Albert Museum
Public domain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Gallery of the Old Bedford 1894-1895 below; at second left, Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul 1906-1907 below; and at fourth left, The Gallery at the Old Mogul 1906 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Gallery of the Old Bedford' 1894-1895

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Gallery of the Old Bedford
1894-1895
Oil on canvas
Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery in 1947

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul' 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul
1906-1907
Oil on canvas
63.7 x 76.6cm
Birmingham Museums Trust
Purchased 1949

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Gallery at the Old Mogul' 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Gallery at the Old Mogul
1906
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 67cm

 

 

Walter Sickert’s The Gallery at the Old Mogul is thought to be one of the earliest paintings in the world of a cinematic performance. Early press descriptions prove that the original title of the picture was Cinematograph and shows a film screening of a Western.

Before the existence of purpose built cinemas, films were often shown in music halls as part of the evening’s entertainment. ‘The Old Mogul’ was the original name for the Middlesex Music Hall in Drury Lane, remodelled and renamed in the 1870s, and variously known as ‘the Mogul Tavern’, ‘the Old Mo’, and ‘the Old Middlesex’. The present work was painted soon after Sickert’s return to London in 1906, at a time when Sickert was rediscovering his fascination for music-hall subjects. ‘I have started many beautiful music-hall pictures. I go to the Mogul Tavern every night, Sickert wrote to Jacques-Émile Blanche in 1906. Related works of the same subject include Noctes Ambrosianae painted in the same year and four related drawings in the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool and Aberdeen Art Gallery. …

Sickert’s inspiration for depicting new forms of entertainment such as cinema performances stemmed partly from French artists, including Degas’ depictions of Parisian Café Concerts and theatres. Sickert, however, was one of the first artists to examine scenes of popular entertainment in a British art context. Unlike Degas, the focus is less on the performance – or in this case screening – and more on the relationship of the audience to the show. This method was developed in Sickert’s earliest entertainment works such as the Old Bedford Gallery pictures of the 1890s [above], which like the present work choose to focus on the audience from behind, inviting the viewer to feel at once a part of the spectacle and yet distant from the subjects. This tool was partly borrowed by Sickert from French Impressionist works such as Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère, where the viewer is made to feel like they are ordering a drink at a bar but is unable to witness the full transaction. Sickert’s ability to create this ambiguity allows the onlooker to invent narratives for the scene, and is one of the reasons he remarked to Virginia Woolf, ‘I have always been a literary painter’ (V. Woolf, Walter Sickert: A Conversation, London, 1934, p. 26). While Sickert’s work may not have the sentiment or caricature of Charles Dickens’ (as loosely suggested by Woolf in 1934), it often manages to give the impression that you are viewing a moment in time, a snapshot that leaves one guessing as to what has just happened or what will happen next.

It is of no surprise therefore, that in later years Sickert began increasingly to adapt compositions directly from photographs. Yet unlike a photograph, The Gallery at the Old Mogul seems full of movement. Sickert maintains the ability not to simply depict but to create dramatic atmosphere through low tones and a liquid handling of paint reminiscent of Whistler and indeed of a cinematic performance. The Gallery at the Old Mogul successfully predicted not only the importance of film on everyday cultural life but on many subsequent art movements such as the Cubist works of Braque and Picasso between 1907-1914.

Jon Fauer. “First painting of a Movie Theater: Sickert’s “The Gallery at the Old Mogul”,” on the Film and Digital Times website 16/06/2016 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Pit at the Old Bedford' 1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Pit at the Old Bedford
1889
Oil on canvas
34.5 x 30.0cm
Fondation Bemberg

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Vesta Victoria at the Old Bedford' c. 1890

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Vesta Victoria at the Old Bedford
c. 1890
Oil on panel
14 1/2 x 9 1/4 ins (37 x 23.5cms)
Private collection, UK

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Gaîté Montparnasse' c. 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Gaîté Montparnasse
c. 1907
Oil paint on canvas
612 × 508 mm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Allan D. Emil Fund, 1958

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford 1892 below; and at right, Brighton Pierrots 1915 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford' 1892

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford
1892
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 765 × 638 mm
Frame: 915 × 787 × 69 mm
Tate
Purchased 1976

 

 

Minnie Cunningham was a popular performer at the Old Bedford Music Hall in Camden Town. Sickert went there regularly and made dozens of sketches capturing the effects of light and movement on the stage and in the auditorium. Here, Sickert paints from the point of view of an audience member. He first exhibited it with the subtitle ‘I’m an old hand at love, though I’m young in years’, a quote from one of Cunningham’s songs. Sickert painted the ordinary life he saw around him.

Gallery label, September 2020

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Brighton Pierrots' 1915

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Brighton Pierrots
1915
Oil on canvas
Tate
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1996

 

 

This week, Tate Britain opened London’s biggest retrospective of Walter Sickert (1860-1942) in almost 30 years. A master of self-invention and theatricality, Sickert took a radically modern approach to painting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, transforming how everyday life was captured on canvas. This major exhibition features over 150 of his works from over 70 public and private collections, from scenes of rowdy music halls to ground-breaking nudes and narrative subjects. Spanning Sickert’s six-decade career, it uncovers the people, places and subjects that inspired him and explores his legacy as one of Britain’s most distinctive, provocative, and influential artists.

Highlights include 10 of Sickert’s iconic self-portraits, from the start of his career to his final years. For the first time, these portraits are brought together from collections across the UK and internationally, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton in Canada. The variety of different personas adopted by Sickert over the years are shown together – a legacy of his early life as an actor – and how his complex personality evolved on the canvas throughout his career.

Sickert’s interest in the stage is also reflected in one of his favourite artistic subjects: the music hall. His dramatic images of performers and audiences, often captured together from unusual and spectacular angles, evoked the energy of working-class city nightlife. The exhibition examines Sickert’s British and French music hall subjects together through over 30 atmospheric paintings and drawings of halls in London and Paris, including The Old Bedford 1894-1895, Gaité Montparnasse 1907 and Théâtre de Montmartre c. 1906 as well as depictions of famous performers such as Minnie Cunningham and Little Dot Hetherington. Although these subjects were deemed inappropriate by much of the British art world at the time, they took inspiration from the café-concert subjects of celebrated French artists such as Edouard Manet and the ballet subjects of Edgar Degas, a close friend and major influence on Sickert after they met in Paris in the 1880s.

The exhibition is the first to explore the impact of another of Sickert’s key influences, from his time as an assistant in the studio of renowned American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Paintings by both artists, including Whistler’s A Shop 1884-1890 and Sickert’s A Shop in Dieppe 1886-1888 have been brought together, as well as Whistler’s 1895 portrait of Sickert himself, to reveal how the young artist was inspired by his mentor’s atmospheric tonal style and urban subjects. The show examines how Sickert went on to create series of works that experimented with how changing light transformed the facades of famous buildings in some of his favourite cities, including Dieppe and Venice.

Sickert revolutionised the traditional genres of painting in ways that changed the course of British art. His nudes were admired in France but disapproved of in Britain, where they were considered immoral because of their unidealised bodies, contemporary settings and voyeuristic framings. They drew on the influence of artists such as Bonnard and Degas and paved the way for later painters like Lucian Freud. The Camden Town Murder series further transformed Sickert’s nude subjects into narrative paintings by juxtaposing two figures in a claustrophobic interior, while his other domestic scenes such as Ennui 1914 and Off To the Pub 1911 continued this exploration of conflicted emotions and complex modern relationships.

In his final years, his work took on a new and ground-breaking form in larger, brighter paintings based on news photographs and popular culture, including images of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic and Peggy Ashcroft in a production Romeo and Juliet. This pioneering approach to photography was an important precursor to Francis Bacon’s use of source material and to pop art’s transformation of images from the media, once again revealing Sickert’s role at the forefront of developments in British art.

Walter Sickert is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with the Petit Palais, Paris. The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers (Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain), Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (Curator of Drawings / Conservatrice des Arts Graphiques at Musée d’Orsay) and former Curator, British Art, 1850-1915 at Tate Britain), the late Delphine Lévy (former Executive Director, Paris Musées) and Thomas Kennedy (Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain). It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing.

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation views of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at centre in the bottom photograph, The Mantelpiece c. 1906-1907 below; and at right, Girl at a Window, Little Rachel 1907 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Mantelpiece' c. 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Mantelpiece
c. 1906-1907
Oil paint on canvas
762 x 508 mm
Southampton City Art Gallery
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS
Photo © Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library

 

 

The art historian Wendy Baron has identified the theme of the mantelpiece still life as an offshoot of Walter Sickert’s paintings of interiors with figures, although Sands may also have been aware of Edouard Vuillard’s painting, The Mantelpiece (La Cheminée) 1905 (fig.1). Large decorative fire surrounds in marble or wood became fashionable during the Victorian period, emphasising the open fire as the focus of a room with its symbolic notions of the domestic hearth and home. By the early twentieth century these mantelpieces, usually surmounted by a large overmantel mirror and a shelf broad enough to accommodate an array of ornaments, were a standard feature in most homes, as can be seen in the dingy and claustrophobic interior of Sickert’s famous painting, Ennui c. 1914 (Tate N03846). They were a feature instantly recognisable as characteristic of their time and appear in a number of paintings of Camden Town interiors by Sickert and his circle such as The Mantelpiece c. 1906-1907 (fig.2) by Sickert, and Spencer Gore’s Conversation Piece and Self-Portrait c. 1910 (private collection). Artists developing a more self-consciously abstract style used the mantelpiece and the inevitable shelf of clutter as a subject, even in Duncan Grant’s and Vanessa Bell’s paintings of the same mantelpiece in Bell’s house at 46 Gordon Square, The Mantelpiece 1914 (Tate T01328, fig.3) and Still Life on Corner of a Mantelpiece 1914 (Tate T01133, fig.4), where, however, it holds a piece of hand-made Bloomsbury decoration.

Nicola Moorby. “Ethel Sands: Flowers in a Jug ?1920s,” on the Tate website The Camden Town Group in Context July 2003 [Online] Cited 09/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Girl at a Window, Little Rachel' 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Girl at a Window, Little Rachel
1907
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 508 × 406 mm
Frame: 765 × 665 × 75 mm
Tate

 

 

This is one of six paintings and numerous drawings of Sickert’s frame-maker’s 13-year-old daughter, known affectionately as ‘Little Rachel’. Sickert described the series as a ‘set of studies of Illumination’. The scene outside the window is Mornington Crescent Gardens, Camden. The girl’s gaze is turned away from both the artist and the view. The closed window may suggest the future that was expected of her at the time, a future inside the home, as a wife and mother.

Gallery label, October 2020

 

This painting is dominated by the French window of Sickert’s north-facing front room at 6 Mornington Crescent. Light falls softly on the dim figure of the red-haired girl, seen looking across Mornington Crescent Gardens. Rachel, the daughter of his frame maker, features in five known oil paintings by Sickert.

 

There are five other known oils of the same sitter: Girl at a Looking-Glass, Little Rachel (fig.1);3 Little Rachel (National Art Gallery of Queensland, Brisbane),4 a head and shoulders portrait, probably seated on Sickert’s bed; Little Rachel (private collection),5 a three-quarter-length portrait of the sitter half turned, with light falling on her face; and Little Rachel (Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery),6 an oil study in profile. In all these works she wears the same blouse as in Tate’s picture. There are several drawings of Rachel, some of which relate to these paintings, but none of them is a study for Tate’s oil.7

According to Sickert’s title for one of these oils and one of the drawings, the sitter was the daughter of his frame maker. Using information supplied by Agnew’s, the art historian Wendy Baron records that Rachel’s surname was Siderman, and that she died in 1963 aged 70. …

In Girl at a Window, Little Rachel, Sickert shows his sitter standing by the French windows of his north-facing, first-floor front room at 6 Mornington Crescent, London NW1, which he kept in 1907, just a few doors away from his friend Spencer Gore who lived at number 31. The room was rented, as Sickert wrote in a letter of 1907 to Nan Hudson addressed from Mornington Crescent, ‘I rather hope that when I come back in the autumn I may take the floor above my lodgings here as a room-studio and do the interiors I love’.11 The 1907 Kelly’s Camden and Kentish Town Directory lists the householder as ‘Mrs George Jones Jr’, who was presumably Sickert’s landlady. Mornington Crescent was only one of Sickert’s addresses, and at this time he also had another studio in Fitzroy Street. Following his return to London in 1905 Sickert had continued the practice he followed in Dieppe of keeping several studios at once, which probably sometimes doubled as living accommodation. The art critic Clive Bell recalled Sickert at a somewhat later period ‘showing us his “studios” – “my drawing studio” “my etching studio” etc. The operation involved chartering a cab and visiting a series of small rooms in different parts of London.’

Robert Upstone. “Walter Richard Sickert: Girl at a Window, Little Rachel 1907,” on the Tate website The Camden Town Group in Context May 2009 [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Nude Stretching: La Coiffure 1905-1906 below; and at centre, Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre about 1906 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Nude Stretching: La Coiffure' 1905-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Nude Stretching: La Coiffure
1905-1906
Pastel
71 x 55cm

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre' About 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre
About 1906
Oil on canvas
644 x 541 mm
Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter City Council

 

 

Female nude reclining on a bed which has brass bedsteads. Le Lit de Cuivre translates to ‘copper bed’. There are several versions of this painting in existence. Sickert had begun to draw nudes on metal bedsteads in Dieppe in 1902 and on his return from Venice in 1904 he began to paint the subject. He continued to do so in London often working from drawings made in France eg. “Le Lit de Fer”. In many of his post-Venetian paintings of the nude, Sickert broke away from a horizontal planar emphasis by placing the bed in a diagonal recession or even at right angles to the surface. This work shows how Sickert had begun to develop a broken, crusty touch in the paint work.

Text from the Google Arts and Culture website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Jack the Ripper's Bedroom' 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom
1906-1907
Oil on canvas
50.8 x 40.7cm
Manchester Art Gallery
Bequeathed by Mrs Mary Cicely Tatlock, 1980

 

 

Dark, shadowy view of a bedroom seen through an open doorway. A wooden chair is in the foreground, in what is probably the hallway, to the left of the open door. A dressing table and chair are just distinguishable beneath the filtered pink half-light coming through the horizontal slats of the blind that covers the window at the back of the room. The items of furniture are so indistinct as to make it conceivable that there is a person sitting on the chair, although there is no one there. The bedroom is that of Sickert’s own lodgings at 6 Mornington Crescent. His landlady had told Sickert that she suspected the previous tenant might have been Jack the Ripper, the famous murderer.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Nude Stretching: La Coiffure 1905-1906 above; and at second left, Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre about 1906 above

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left, Jack Ashore 1912-1913 below; at second right, The Iron Bedstead c. 1908 below; and at right, Mornington Crescent Nude c. 1907 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Jack Ashore' 1912-1913

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Jack Ashore
1912-1913
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 368 × 298 mm
Frame: 568 × 494 × 92 mm
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
Wilson Gift through the Art Fund 2006

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Iron Bedstead' c. 1908

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Iron Bedstead
c. 1908
Oil on canvas
39.5 x 50cm
Earl and Countess of Harewood

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Mornington Crescent Nude' c. 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Mornington Crescent Nude
c. 1907
Oil on canvas
45.7 x 50.8cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Gift from Mrs Maurice Hill

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Camden Town Murder, or, What Shall We Do for the Rent' c. 1908

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Camden Town Murder, or, What Shall We Do for the Rent
c. 1908
Oil on canvas
Yale Center for British Art

 

 

But the question is what Sickert is staging in his own theatre, that dank land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gaslit pubs where men and women are at stalemate. The aesthetic origins are clear enough. Sickert – half Danish, student of Whistler, friend of Degas, admirer of Bonnard – continually aspires to European modernism. The debts are everywhere visible in the show. The most famous painting here, Ennui, pays direct homage to Degas’s drinkers stalled over their absinthe in Paris cafes with more than just its French title.

Five feet high, it is an immense snapshot of suicidal boredom. The glassy-eyed man lolls over his half-empty pint at the table; the woman leans on the chest of drawers, staring straight at the imprisoning walls. Next to her is a case of stuffed birds, trapped in a bell jar of their own. “It is all over with them,” wrote Virginia Woolf, imagining that innumerable dull days had crushed them like “an avalanche of rubbish.”

But the scene is conspicuously staged (to be reprised four more times), and eagle-eyed visitors will recognise the same models in other paintings. Hubby, as he was called, seems to have been an acquaintance of Sickert who had fallen on hard times; Marie was his cleaning lady. He has these working people pose again and again.

Hubby is just edging out of the scene on the way to the pub, just arriving, or terminally slumped. He reappears, with his sleeves menacingly rolled, over a naked woman on a bed in one of the so-called Camden Town nudes. Tate Britain has not shied away from showing a whole gallery of these paintings, which are shot through with suppressed malevolence – a horrible aura of voyeurism, encroachment or outright violence.

The relationship between the prone and naked woman and the clothed man, seated or standing, is disturbing enough. But in at least one painting, the notorious L’Affaire de Camden Town [below], the female body looks beaten like a heap of purpling meat in the gloom, and she is either shielding herself from the man above her, or she is already dead.

Sickert so often fudged (or simply fumbled) human anatomy that the question is how hard he worked to achieve this dark ambiguity. The title of this particular work refers to the murder of a woman named Emily Dimmock in Camden Town in 1907. Sickert’s paintings are a queasy conflation of crime scene, studio setup and social history, and he liked to confuse things further with deflecting titles. One picture is called What Shall We Do for the Rent? [above]

Laura Cumming. “Walter Sickert review – a master of menace,” on The Guardian website Sun 1 May 2022 [Online] Cited 12/05/2022

 

And the centre of this exhibition is a no-holds-barred display of Sickert’s nudes. Against the dark walls of the gallery, in fierce yet subtle lighting, the women are laid out. Their bodies are spread, exhibited, arranged, “like a patient etherised upon a table”, to quote TS Eliot. One model lies with her legs hanging over the bed, her arms spread out. She could be the dead Christ. Another is washing, but as she bends in a doorway we can’t see her head, only her naked body.

L’Affaire de Camden Town [below] takes it to another level. In this 1909 painting, a man stands over an inert female form on a bed. But it is worse than that. She is not so much a continuous figure as a collection of ruddy, moist forms like meat in a butcher’s window. The male onlooker could be a killer contemplating his handiwork – which is exactly what Sickert’s title implies. For this is one of a series of paintings that allude to the murder of Emily Elizabeth Dimmock in Camden, London, in 1907. Sickert became fascinated by this murder. If he really is responsible for sketches of a man with a knife over a woman’s body in the Ripper letters of 1888, his Camden Town Murder paintings eerily echo them.

In The Camden Town Murder, or What Shall We Do for the Rent?, [above] the man sits in despair while the nude on the iron bed has her face turned from us. She may be crying or he may have just throttled her. The stiffness of her arm and awkwardly placed hand suggests the latter. In a drawing called Persuasion a bald, bearded man appears to strangle a woman before our eyes.

These are truly shocking images, more than a century on. Yet they have affinities with some of the greatest modern art, as the exhibition demonstrates. Sickert was strongly influenced by Degas, and in turn influenced Lucian Freud – there are nudes here by both for comparison.

The most appalling aspects of Sickert’s nudes are also their artistic strength. He rejects the phoney academic nude for raw naked reality – he even wrote an essay explaining this aesthetic. This is why he depicts women, more literally perhaps than any artist, as objects: because the body is an object, it is meat. Francis Bacon would agree with him.

Jonathan Jones. “Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater? This hellish, brilliant show only leaves questions,” on The Guardian website Tue 26 Apr 2022 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'L'Affaire de Camden Town' 1909

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
L’Affaire de Camden Town
1909
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

[Liam] Scarlett sees Sickert as a self-styled enigma. In society he was an entertaining, ambitious parvenu, flaunting his connections with royalty, his inclusion in aristocratic circles; professionally, however, he worked as a recluse, renting studios in the dingiest slums of London. He was a painter of secrets, coding visual puzzles into his canvases, giving them wilfully ambiguous titles. And even in an era where everybody was enthralled by crime, he was peculiarly obsessed, fascinated by the prostitutes in the streets around his studios, by the men who used them, and especially by the men who killed them. …

Sickert produced the Camden Town Murder paintings, a series of four, in 1908. They were inspired by the murder the previous year of a prostitute, Emily Dimmock, and present variations on the same unsettling image: a naked woman, sprawled limply over a bed next to a fully clothed man who may or may not be her killer.

The atmosphere in the paintings is both brutal and ambiguous; Scarlett describes it as “seething”, and as he researched deeper into Sickert’s work he saw it echoed many times. In the Camden Town Nude series (1905-1912) the women look like victims, even when they’re alive, their faces obliterated by a slash or blur of paint, their bodies laid out for the artist’s dissecting gaze. Sickert’s mentor, Degas, also played with a queasy element of voyeurism, but Sickert makes the threat overt. Scarlett, who has collected books about the artist, points to a white brushstroke in one of the paintings that makes a “dagger-like approach to the woman’s genital area”.

Even in the paintings where no male aggression is implied, age and poverty make harsh assaults on Sickert’s nudes, their flesh drained of colour, curdled, clotted and veiny, sometimes covered with sores.

Judith Mackrell. “Walter Sickert and the dance of death,” on The Guardian website Mon 19 Mar 2012 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'La Hollandaise' c. 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
La Hollandaise
c. 1906
Oil on canvas
Tate
Purchased 1983

 

 

 

‘The naked and the Nude’

As with much of Sickert’s work it is not entirely clear what effect the artist intended to create. When viewed in the context of Sickert’s views on the nude, the treatment of the body in La Hollandaise can be read, not as disturbing, but as painterly. In Sickert’s opinion paintings should always show ‘someone, somewhere’.11 He firmly outlined his beliefs in an article in the New Age, July 1910, entitled ‘The naked and the Nude’, in which he condemned art school practice which taught students to draw idealised, ‘lifeless’ nudes without reference to the real world. Instead, he articulated, the focus should be placed on drawing the clothed figure, or at least figures set within a real environment in which context their nakedness made some sense. He concluded:

Perhaps the chief source of pleasure in the aspect of a nude is that it is in the nature of a gleam – a gleam of light and warmth and life. And that it should appear thus, it should be set in surroundings of drapery or other contrasting surfaces.12

.
In La Hollandaise the mottled appearance of the skin is a study of the effects of colour and light on the body, and certain areas such as the left breast are elegantly and delicately painted. It is certain, however, that Sickert was aware of the complex multiplicity of the image, and despite intending the painting to be an aesthetic treatment of the body, he was by no means innocent of its provocative and disturbing possibilities.

Sickert went on to exploit these possibilities even further in his most notorious set of works, the Camden Town Murder paintings, 1908-1909. These pictures, which referred to the recent local murder of a prostitute, caused a sensation when exhibited at the first Camden Town Group exhibition in June 1911. Once again, the ubiquitous iron bedstead featured as the central focal point around which Sickert organised a figural tableau. Unlike his earlier series, however, the artist now paired an unclothed female with a fully dressed male which greatly altered the context of the nude in an interior. In paintings such as The Camden Town Murder or What Shall We Do About the Rent? c.1908 (fig.3)13 [above] and L’Affaire de Camden Town 1909 (fig.4),14 [above] the inclusion of a clothed male protagonist introduces an implied narrative of violence and sex. Although not as extreme or overt, these sordid undercurrents are present in La Hollandaise.

 

‘La Hollandaise’

The art historian Richard Shone has suggested that the title may have been inspired by one of the minor incidental female characters in the novels of Honoré de Balzac. Sarah Gobseck, a prostitute who appears in several of the stories of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, is familiarly known as ‘la belle Hollandaise’. This ‘magnificent creature’ is purported to be the grand-niece of a Dutch money-lender who leads an immoral and wanton life and is eventually murdered by one of her clients. The title of the painting, therefore, is possibly intended to project connotations of prostitution, or, less specifically, to be representative of a generic grim realism. In Balzac’s Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau (published 1838), the character is described as ‘one of those mad-cap women who care nothing as to where the money comes from, or how it is obtained … she never thought of the morrow, for her the future was after dinner, and the end of the month eternity, even if she had bills to pay’,15 a statement which may have appealed to Sickert as reminiscent of his own imprudent character.

The title of La Hollandaise translates as ‘The Dutch Girl’ and may reflect a sense of seriality when linked to other works of this period. It is one of a number of paintings by Sickert with similarly continental titles, for example La Jolie Veneitienne 1903-1904 (private collection),16 La Belle Sicilienne c. 1905 (David Fullen),17 La Belle Rousse c. 1905 (private collection),18 Les Petites Belges 1906 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston),19 and The Belgian Cocotte 1906 (Arts Council Collection, London).20 Furthermore, as Wendy Baron has noted, the foreshortened figure and crossed placement of limbs recalls Sickert’s earlier group of Venetian nudes, for example, Conversations 1903-1904 (private collection).21 Sickert himself was a cosmopolitan character, equally at home in London, Dieppe or Venice. Despite reducing the means of identifying one model from another to a label indicating their nationality, he was not actually interested in analysing cultural difference. Rather his titles reflect the sameness of his approach. His interest lay in finding models from within a certain class of woman and painting them in a variety of poses, both nude and clothed, against an interior that was uniformly dingy and unprepossessing. Essentially, Sickert believed, the experience of urban existence was the same wherever he went.

Nicola Moorby. “La Hollandaise c. 1906,” on the Tate website March 2007 [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

Footnotes

11. Walter Sickert, ‘On the Conduct of a Talent’, New Age, 11 June 1914, p. 131, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 377.
12. Walter Sickert, ‘The naked and the Nude’, New Age, 21 July 1910, p. 277, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 263.
13. Baron 2006, no. 348.
14. Baron 2006, no. 354.
15. Honoré de Balzac, Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau, 1838.
16. Reproduced in Baron 2006, no. 206.
17. Reproduced ibid., no. 240.
18. Baron 2006, no. 235; reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.123, p. 158.
19. Reproduced in Baron 2006, no. 261.
20. Reproduced ibid., no. 265.
21. Wendy Baron, ‘The Process of Invention. Interrelated or Interdependent: Sickert’s Drawings and Paintings of Intimate Figure Subjects’, in Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Institute of Art, London 2007, p. 35, reproduced fig.13, p. 31; Baron 2006, no. 217.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Nuit d'Été' c. 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Nuit d’Été
c. 1906
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 508 × 406 mm
Frame: 670 × 570 mm
Private collection, courtesy of Offer Waterman, London

 

 

Walter Sickert exhibition guide

Walter Richard Sickert’s approach to art making was distinctive, provocative and influential. He was a master of self-invention and theatricality, transforming how everyday life was captured on canvas. Spanning his six-decade career, this exhibition uncovers the people, places and events that inspired him. Born in Munich, Germany in 1860, Sickert moved with his family to England when he was eight years old. His father was an artist, introducing him to the work of prominent French and British artists, but Sickert initially pursued a career as an actor. He switched to art in 1882, studying briefly at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, before becoming a pupil of American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Sickert became a central figure of the British artistic avant-garde, as both a painter and a critic.

Sickert created important artistic links between Britain and France, and he spent significant periods of his working life in France. He was a founding member of the New English Art Club, formed as a French-influenced alternative to the more traditional Royal Academy, and the leader of the Camden Town Group of artists who were influenced by post-impressionism.

[Artists associated with the Camden Town Group painted realist scenes of city life and some landscape in a range of post-impressionist styles. The group is named after the seedy district of north London where Walter Sickert had lived in the 1890s (and again from 1907). Sickert’s series of Camden Town nudes and his paintings of alienated couples in interiors, such as Ennui, are his outstanding contribution to Camden Town art.]

Sickert’s innovative painting techniques and subject matter always kept him at the forefront of developments in British art. Sickert said: ‘The plastic arts [visual arts] are gross arts, dealing joyously with gross material facts.’ It was Sickert’s embrace of this materiality – both in his handling of paint and in the exploration of the lives of ordinary people and places – that was ground-breaking in his time. These ideas would go on to inspire generations of younger artists, as well as prominent contemporary painters who cite him as an influence.

 

1. Sickert’s Identities

This room brings together self-portraits Sickert produced throughout his career. Looking at the works, we can see the wide range of techniques and source material Sickert used and the varied ways he presented himself publicly. Having trained as an actor, Sickert could skilfully adopt different personas in his self-portraits, depending on his preoccupations at the time. As well as examinations of the inner self, these works can be interpreted as performances of identity. Early self-portraits feature strong lighting which creates an intense, dramatic effect. Later paintings show the established artist in his studio, surrounded by the tools of his trade. He presents himself as an artist, actor, and even as biblical characters. His later portraits are often based on photographs taken by his wife, Thérèse Lessore.

 

2. The Apprenticeship Years: from Whistler to Degas

After a brief spell at the Slade School of Fine Art, Sickert began his artistic career in 1882 at James Abott McNeill Whistler’s studio, as an assistant helping to print etching plates. Sickert’s own etchings at the time were close in style to Whistler’s, often representing urban scenes with a deliberate economy of line. He was also influenced by Whistler’s small oil panels, painted from life.

Displayed in this room are panels by both Sickert and Whistler, depicting shopfronts in Dieppe and London. They show that Dieppe was an important location for Sickert from his earliest days as an artist. We can also see how Sickert adopted Whistler’s tonal approach to painting, which he learned preparing Whistler’s palette before sketching trips.

The later works in this room show a shift in Sickert’s approach. French artist Edgar Degas became his mentor in 1885, inspiring him to plan his compositions with preliminary drawings and to use bolder colours.

 

3. The Music Hall: Artifices of the Stage

Initially inspired by Degas’s paintings of Parisian café-concerts, Sickert’s music hall paintings catapulted his career to new heights. From a young age he was described as ‘stage-struck’ and acted professionally before becoming an artist. Sickert visited music halls almost every night and made sketches that not only captured the effects of light and movement onstage, but also the people watching in the audience. His subsequent paintings adopted unusual viewpoints while playing with colour, expressing the vibrancy of the performative atmosphere. However, critics described music halls as ‘working-class entertainments’, perceiving popular culture as an inappropriate subject for fine art.

Music halls were popular entertainment venues in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Sickert’s paintings of London, but also Paris and Dieppe, trace their development and demise – from nightly live performances to hosting the first cinematic screenings in Britain. The cinema as well as radio and music recordings became popular, leading to a decline in music hall audiences. Yet, Sickert never lost his interest in theatrical subjects and later turned his attention to other forms of popular entertainment.

 

4. Beyond Portraiture

Sickert took up portrait painting in the hope of using it to earn a regular income and to raise his profile. However, most of his portraits were not specially commissioned so did not benefit him financially. His sitters, many of them well-known personalities, show the extent of his connections within cultural circles and high society in both England and France. Sickert’s portraits depict a range of characters, such as the emaciated figure of the artist Aubrey Beardsley (1894) and the glamorous singer Elizabeth Swinton (Mrs Swinton 1905-1906).

Sickert’s informal portraits, painted in London and Venice, are perhaps closer to genre paintings than portraits. Rather than showing individuals’ characters and inner lives, Sickert painted more generic figures or ‘types’ of people, in carefully observed interiors. Often, these surroundings are equally as important as the figures in suggesting a narrative and an emotional connection between sitter and setting.

 

5A. The Urban Environment: Venice and Dieppe

In 1899 Sickert wrote: ‘I see my line. Not portraits. Picturesque work.’

Landscape paintings were among Sickert’s most successful works, especially views of Dieppe and Venice for which he found a ready market through his dealers in Paris. Sickert frequently returned to favourite painting locations such as Dieppe (where he lived between 1898 and 1905) and Venice (which he visited regularly from 1895). He repeatedly painted their buildings and streets, developing source material he had sketched on the spot into finished paintings in his studio. He often focused on the facades of two famous buildings: St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and the church of St Jacques in Dieppe, where he explored the effect of light on the architecture at different times of day. This approach of looking at the effects of shifting light probably drew inspiration from French impressionist Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series. In Dieppe, Sickert remained interested in the human aspect of the urban scene, often including scenes of everyday life in the foreground of his paintings. Here he was inspired by French artist Camille Pissarro’s views of Dieppe.

 

5B. The Urban Environment: Dieppe, London and Paris

Sickert’s street scenes evolved from small formats that were relatively dark, to bigger paintings that were brighter and more colourful. He was influenced by developments in modern art such as French impressionism, the vivid colours of fauvism, and the bold outlines and symbolism of the Nabis group of French artists. Viewing these works as more commercially attractive, Sickert’s French dealers encouraged this change.

In 1902, Sickert painted a group of large-scale works for Dieppe’s Hôtel de la Plage, as well as capturing the vibrancy of Dieppe street life in other works. He only rarely painted Paris and London views, but these included several atmospheric night scenes, displayed here.

 

6. The Nude

In 1910 Sickert published an article in The New Age titled, ‘The naked and the Nude’. In Sickert’s view, academic ‘Nude’ paintings were so artificial in setting and in form, that they bore little resemblance to the naked human figure.

In the years preceding the text, he had been producing works which challenged such traditions. Inspired by French artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Edgar Degas, who aimed to connect the long-established genre of nude painting with modern urban life, Sickert painted urban working-class women in contemporary settings, presenting them as naked rather than as an idealised nude. Sickert was also interested in the aesthetic qualities afforded by painting nudes in interior settings, like the patterns created on flesh by light streaming from a window.

Sickert first exhibited his nudes in Paris in 1905, where they were well-received. But in Britain, critics strongly objected to their subject matter when they were first shown in 1911. A naked woman in a dimly-lit room, with crumpled sheets on an iron bedstead, suggested poverty and prostitution to the British press. By painting realistic female bodies in everyday interiors, Sickert created a major innovation in British paintings of the nude. His work has gone on to influence later British painters, such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, in their treatment of the nude. However, in recent years, critics and viewers have asked if Sickert’s paintings objectify women, questioning the power dynamics between model and artist, and within the scenes depicted.

 

The Camden Town Murder Series

From painting a single nude, Sickert soon began to explore different ways of posing two figures in an interior. Works set in Venice and London (seen earlier in this room) depict semi-naked and clothed women in conversation, seated on a bed. Sickert then developed a series of paintings depicting a clothed man and naked woman. He posed his models in the same dingy rooms in Camden Town where he had painted his nudes, using many of the same props such as the iron bedstead. These paintings have become known as the Camden Town Murder series.

The Camden Town Murder was the name given to a real event: the murder of Emily Dimmock in Camden in 1907. The murder attracted huge press attention. Sickert took advantage of the interest and controversy raised by giving some of his paintings titles that allude to the murder. He also reworked them and gave them alternative titles. This allowed the viewer to imagine different narratives and relationships between the figures. Sickert was interested in the emotional connection between the figures in their different configurations, rather than any kind of illustration of Dimmock’s murder. The series has long intrigued audiences because of the ambiguity between title and subject matter. For Sickert, these works furthered his exploration of narrative painting. However, some people are critical of the potential for violence they see within the scenes.

 

Sickert’s Models

Like most artists of his generation, Sickert worked with models, some of whom would become close friends or lovers. More often, the relationship was professional, with the model being paid for their work. We know the identity of some of his models: Augustine Villain in Dieppe, Carolina d’Acqua and La Giuseppina in Venice, Blanche and Adeline in Paris, Hubby and Marie in London. Others are unknown.

 

7. Modern Conversation Pieces

Sickert’s fascination with narrative painting led to him radically reinventing the ‘conversation piece’. These group portraits in informal settings were originally popularised by William Hogarth and other 18th-century British artists. Also drawing on contemporary French paintings of figures in interiors, Sickert created a uniquely British style for the 20th century. Arranging stage sets in his studio, Sickert aimed to depict everyday life in the modern city. He painted figures showing conflicting emotions, appearing to be in tense relationships, heightened by claustrophobic environments. The same subject matter appears in multiple paintings, with alternating combinations of figures and different titles. Sickert leaves the narratives behind such works unfixed and open for us to interpret – he felt their visual content and materiality were more important than written descriptions.

 

8. Transposition: The Final Years

From his initial interest in music halls, Sickert’s fascination with popular culture continued throughout the 1930s. He began to paint on a larger scale and use a brighter colour palette. Scenes from the theatre and stories in the popular press dominated his output. He would use black and white photographs as visual sources, which he translated into vivid colour on the canvas. Sickert was fascinated by how black and white photography’s flattened perspectives and stark tonal contrasts resulted in simplified forms. He retained these elements, creating almost abstract effects in his finished paintings.

Sickert also produced a series of works based on Victorian engravings, which he entitled ‘Echoes’. In contrast, his theatrical scenes were based on photographs taken himself or by his assistants during rehearsals, or on press cuttings. Here, he featured his favourite performers, such as Peggy Ashcroft and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, whom he painted repeatedly. He also used press-cuttings as the source for images of royalty or historic events such as Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic in May 1932. Sickert’s use of photography is now recognised as a significant precursor of subsequent developments in art. Pop art’s transposition of found popular images is indebted to Sickert, as is the use of photography as source material by late 20th-century artists, such as Francis Bacon.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Trapeze' 1920

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Trapeze
1920
Oil on canvas
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'L'Hôtel Royal, Dieppe' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
L’Hôtel Royal, Dieppe
1894
Oil on canvas
Sheffield Museums Trust

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Les Arcades et La Darse' c. 1898

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Les Arcades et La Darse
c. 1898
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 508 × 670 mm
Frame: 680 × 790 × 90 mm
Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Rowlandson House – Sunset 1910-1911 below; at second left, The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden c. 1927-1931 below; at third left, Queens Road Station, Bayswater c. 1916 below; at fourth right, Maple Street, London c. 1915-1923 below; at third right, O Nuit d’Amour 1922 below; at second right, Celebrations, Dieppe 1914 below; and at right, Café Suisse, Dieppe 1914 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Rowlandson House – Sunset' 1910-1911

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Rowlandson House – Sunset
1910-1911
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 502 mm
Frame: 805 × 707 × 67 mm
Tate
Bequeathed by Lady Henry Cavendish-Bentinck 1940

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Garden of Love or Lainey's Garden' c. 1927-1931

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden
c. 1927-1931
Oil on canvas
81.9 x 61.6cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Gift from J. Howard Bliss, 1945

 

 

Sickest met English artist Thérèse Lessore in January 1914, when she was elected to the London Group (a society of artists). They married in Margate on 4 June, 1926 and soon after moved to Brighton. In 1927, Sickert and Lessore return to London and settled at Southey Villa, Quandrant Road, near Essex Road in Islington – the likely location of this painting. Thérèse, or ‘Lainey’ (as Sickert liked to call her) tends to her garden, an intimate space surrounded by London’s urban landscape. The road no longer exists but in its place stands a community centre named after Sickert.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Queens Road Station, Bayswater' c. 1916

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Queens Road Station, Bayswater
c. 1916
Oil on canvas
62.3 x 73cm
The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)
Bequeathed by Roger Eliot Fry, 1935

 

 

Queens Road station (now Bayswater station) was one of the first underground stations in London. This painting shows a view across the tracks to a platform where a man is seated in a recess. The diamond-shaped platform sign was a short-lived prototype of the famous bar and circle design, introduced shortly after Sickert completed the canvas. The name ‘Whiteley’s’ refers to the well-known department store just north of the station. For contemporaries, Whiteley’s was synonymous with the sensational murder of the store’s founder in 1907. Sickert’s arrangement of the station’s signs and advertisements into patterns of form and colour particularly appealed to Roger Fry who bought this painting in 1919 for his London home.

Text from the Art UK website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Maple Street, London' c. 1915-1923

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Maple Street, London
c. 1915-1923
Oil on canvas
76.8cm (30.2 in) x 51.1cm (20.1 in)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Emma Swan Hall, 1998
CC0 1.0

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'O Nuit d'Amour' 1922

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
O Nuit d’Amour
1922
Oil on canvas
90.2 x 69.8cm
Manchester Art Gallery
purchased at Christie’s, 1988

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Celebrations, Dieppe' 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Celebrations, Dieppe
1914
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 61cm

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Café Suisse, Dieppe' 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Café Suisse, Dieppe
1914
Oil on canvas

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Easter c. 1928 below; at second left, Rowlandson House – Sunset 1910-1911; at third left, The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden c. 1927-1931

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Easter' c. 1928

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Easter
c. 1928
Oil on canvas
© National Museums NI, Ulster Museum Collection

 

 

Despite his association with the Camden Town Group of artists, who took their subjects from the streets of the London district, Sickert rarely depicted the streets of London itself. Two examples displayed here are Maple Street, which depicts a street in the Fitzrovia area, and Easter, which depicts Dawson Brothers, a linen-drapers’ shop on City Road close to Old Street tube station. The shop was in business from the 1940s until the late 20th century. Sickest has painted the almost deserted street at night, illuminated by a window display of Easter bonnets.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at Bathers, Dieppe 1902 below; at second left, Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe 1902 below; at third right, The Fair at Night c. 1902-1903 below; and at right, Easter c. 1928 above

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at Bathers, Dieppe 1902 below; at second left, Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe 1902 below; and at right, The Fair at Night c. 1902-1903 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Bathers, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Bathers, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
131.4 x 104.5cm
Walker Art Gallery, purchased 1935

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
Manchester Art Gallery
Purchased from the Lefevre Galleries, 1935

 

 

In this work Sickert depicts a statue of Dieppe’s celebrated hero Admiral Abraham Duquesne in the Place Nationale by foreshortening and silhouetting of the statue against the sky which gives it a dramatic presence.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Fair at Night' c. 1902-1903

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Fair at Night
c. 1902-1903
Oil on canvas
129.5 x 97.2cm
Rochdale Art Gallery

 

 

The Fair at Night is an early example of Sickert’s use of especially vibrant colour, more prominent in his later work. The muted background is enriched with acidic greens, lurid yellows and vivid scarlets. Sickert uses broad, sweeping brushstrokes to create a dynamic evocation of the local fair in Dieppe.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe' c. 1890

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe
c. 1890
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 603 × 730 mm
Frame: 830 × 955 × 108 mm
Tate
Presented by Miss Sylvia Gosse 1917

 

 

In the 1890s Sickert spent most of his summers at the French port of Dieppe, and from 1896 to 1905 he lived there permanently. At that time it was popular with British artists as well as being a fashionable holiday resort for English people as indicated by a barber’s sign in English on the right. The Café des Tribunaux was at a focal point of the town, where two roads converge, and was frequented by British visitors. Both French realist and Impressionist tendencies are present in the painting.

Tate Gallery label, November 2016

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, The Façade of San Marco, Venice 1896-1897 below; at second left, St Mark’s, Venice 1896 below; at second right, The Lion of St Mark c. 1895-1896 below; and at right, The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe 1902 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Lion of St Mark' c. 1895-1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Lion of St Mark
c. 1895-1896
Oil on canvas
89.8 x 90.2cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum

 

 

Sickert fills the whole painting with the Lion of St Mark set against one side of the Doge’s Palace behind. Most of the painting is in shadow and the perspective flattened with just a small section of the Doge’s Palace in strong sunlight.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left, The Façade of San Marco, Venice 1896-1897 below; and at second right, St Mark’s, Venice 1896 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Façade of San Marco, Venice' 1896-1897

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Façade of San Marco, Venice
1896-1897
Oil on canvas
90 x 120cm
National Trust, Coleton Fishacre

 

 

Venice occupies an important position in the development of Sickert’s development as an artist. He first visited the Italian city in 1894 in his mid-thirties, then made subsequent trips to paint there in 1895-1896, 1900, 1901, 1903-1904 and 1905. He called it ‘the loveliest city in the world’.

In 1895 Sickert had visited an exhibition of Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral and they impressed him so much that in Venice he too took a cathedral, San Marco, and executed a series of paintings of it from the same position.

His San Marco facade series differed however in that whilst for Monet everything was on the changing effects of light on the facade, Sickert focussed on the architectural forms. He captured all the details on carefully gridded preparatory drawings, transferred these to each painting and then added a dominant light and colour effect from one time during the day.

Text from the Art UK website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'St Mark's, Venice (Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus)' 1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
St Mark’s, Venice (Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus)
1896
Oil on canvas
90.8 x 120 cm
Tate

 

 

The skies are rendered in a uniform colour, and the gold from the four mosaics and crosses contrasts markedly with the sombre, shadowed plaza in front of the cathedral, where incidental figures are not at first noticed walking by.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Horses of St Mark's, Venice' 1901-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Horses of St Mark’s, Venice
c. 1901-1906
Oil on canvas
53 x 44cm
Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

 

 

The Horses of St Mark’s are a set of Byzantine bronze statues of four horses, originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga (a four-horse carriage used for chariot racing). Whilst they give the painting its title, they were of secondary importance for Sickert, and he was much more interested in the arch above them and the gold decoration under different light.

 

 

 

Five Things to Know about Walter Sickert

 

1. He initially trained as an actor

Born in Munich to an artist father, he moved to England at eight years old. Before taking up a career as a painter, Walter Sickert’s focus was becoming an actor, having been described as ‘stage-struck’ from an early age. He appeared in a number of productions from Henry VII and The Lady of Lyons to Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

When he decided to become an artist, his fascination with theatrical subjects continued throughout his career in both paintings and drawings. From his love of music halls to staging various setups for his paintings, Sickert also adopted a variety of personas over the years to continually reinvent himself including the role of biblical characters such as Lazarus when making self-portraits.

 

2. He attempted things no artist had tried before

Innovative and radical with both his painting techniques and approach to subject matter, he led key avant-garde groups of artists in the early 20th century, from the London Impressionists to the Camden Town Group. He pushed boundaries with his frequently provocative work by crafting his nude paintings, for example, in domestic, everyday settings, determined to capture society as he saw it at the time.

Later, he would take inspiration for his painting based on news photographs and popular culture. This included images of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic and Leslie Banks and Edith Evans in the production of The Taming of the Shrew – he was also the first person to paint a screened film. Sickert was extremely interested in the popular press and used stories in newspapers to create narratives in his paintings. This included celebrities from King Edward VIII to Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and Ira Aldridge. This exciting approach to photography saw him known as a precursor to Pop Art.

 

3. Sickert was not Jack the Ripper

Sickert was fascinated by the popular press and sensational stories including Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders. Because of this, and his realistic paintings of everyday life, he has emerged in recent years as one of several suspects related to the case.

There is no evidence to suggest that Sickert was involved in the murders despite the promotion of a theory by American crime writer Patricia Cornwell. The identity of Jack the Ripper has never been determined and there is no evidence to link Sickert to the murders.

In recent years, paper analysis has suggested links between paper used by Sickert for personal correspondence and paper used in some of the hoax letters sent to the police and press claiming to be from Jack the Ripper. The most that can be said is that if Sickert did write some of these hoax letters it was consistent with his propensity to play with different identities and follow sensational stories in the popular press.

The Walter Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain does not consider this topic, however an essay in the exhibition catalogue investigates the evidence of the letters.

 

4. He has notable artistic links to France

His work was particularly important for links between Britain and France. He spent a great deal of his working life in France and had a long history of exhibiting in both London and Paris. He also has a significant connection to Dieppe, having lived there for a time – it was an important location for Sickert, particularly in the early days of his career, painting the location frequently when he was an apprentice in James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s art studio. During his time in France, he also became friends with Edgar Degas who influenced Sickert’s practice and choice of subject matter.

In Britain, he was a founder member of the New English Art Club, formed as a French-influenced alternative to the Royal Academy. He also inspired groups of younger artists interested in the development of post-impressionist ideas, such as Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman, and others who formed the Camden Town Group.

 

5. He helped shape modern British Art as we know it

Sickert began his career in 1882 as an apprentice in James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s studio, assisting initially with printing etching plates of urban environments and cities. Degas was another great influence in his artistic life, but early on, he began to establish himself as his own artist. The rest is history: Sickert went on to revolutionise the traditional genres of painting thanks to his fascination with alternating narratives – this helped change the course of British art. Artists who came after Sickert, from Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye were all influenced by his work.

In his final years, he reinvented himself professionally and artistically. From his career beginnings as an actor to apprentice, painter, teacher and critic, he remains a celebrated artist whose progressive ideas in painting make him as relevant and influential today as he was in his own time.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Off to the Pub' 1911

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Off to the Pub
1911
Oil paint on canvas
508 x 406 mm

 

 

This painting shows the figure of a man in the act of leaving a tawdry mustard and brown interior, presumably for the pub, as given in the title. A woman seen in profile seated stoically appears to stare vacantly after him, and wears the flat straw hat of the costermonger, signifying her stereotypically grim urban working class experience. At the time, Sickert was engaged in capturing pairs of figures arranged variously within domestic settings to produce emotional or psychological tension, as in the melodramatic crisis portrayed here, which culminated a few years later in Ennui c. 1914 [below]

Text from the Tate website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Ennui' c. 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Ennui
c. 1914
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1524 × 1124 mm
Frame: 1741 × 1340 × 110 mm
Tate
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1924

 

 

The title of this painting means ‘boredom’ in French. Sickert suggests the strained relationship between the figures by their lack of communication. Despite being close together, the man and woman face in opposite directions, staring off into space. They appear almost trapped in their surroundings. The furnishings reinforce the theme, in particular the bell jar containing stuffed birds, suggesting a suffocating environment. Sickert’s works give us no moral or narrative certainty. He leaves it up to us to interpret the image.

Gallery label, August 2020

 

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

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1894
Tempera on canvas
Support: 762 × 311 mm
Frame: 1010 × 553 × 61 mm
Tate
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1932

 

 

It is thought that this painting shows the artist Aubrey Beardsley walking through Hampstead Church graveyard. He had been attending the unveiling of a memorial to the Romantic poet John Keats. At this time Beardsley was also living with tuberculosis, the disease which had killed Keats. Though elegantly dressed, Beardsley’s figure appears emaciated. The subdued background adds to the poignancy of the image; Beardsley died four years later. The painting was published in the journal Yellow Book when Beardsley was art editor.

Tate Gallery label, November 2021

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'George Moore' 1890-1891

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
George Moore
1890-1891
Oil on canvas
Tate

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Mrs Swinton' c. 1905-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Mrs Swinton
c. 1905-1906
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 762 × 635 mm
Frame: 903 × 775 × 65 mm
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Victor Lecourt' 1922-1924

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Victor Lecourt
1922-1924
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 813 × 605 mm
Frame: 995 × 788 × 77 mm
Manchester Art Gallery
George Beatson Blair bequest, 1941

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Baccarat' 1920

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Baccarat
1920
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 552 × 457 mm
Frame: 700 × 620 × 80 mm
Private collection c/o Grant Ford Limited

 

 

Sickert and Photography

Rebecca Daniels on how Walter Sickert deftly combined art history and photography in his paintings

While lecturing at the Thanet School of Art in November 1934, Walter Sickert observed that the artist ‘Carpaccio used to put in the background of his compositions exact copies of the architecture that was current in his day, such things as one sees nowadays in such papers as the Mirror and the Sketch‘. This was part of an impassioned plea that the art of the past was still very relevant to the present. A fortnight later Sickert sourced a photograph of his ‘adored’ Peggy Ashcroft, the formidable British actress, from the pages of The Radio Times. It shows Ashcroft on holiday, standing on the Accademia Bridge in Venice, a month before her wedding to the theatre director Theodore Kominsarjevsky.

Sickert’s sharp eye perceived that this casual ‘holiday snap’ had strong affinities with the compositions of Venetian Renaissance art. The actress, captured in profile and leaning against a ledge, is reminiscent of Bellini and the background alludes to Carpaccio. Yet the colours and technique Sickert then deployed in his painting Variation on Peggy 1934-1935 [below] are uncompromisingly modern. The vibrant but limited palette seems to refer to colours used in the four-colour printing process as seen in an advertisement on the back of the same edition of The Radio Times (16 November 1934). Sickert commented, in April 1933, that colour reproduction was ‘perpetually improving’. Variation on Peggy is an example of his deliberately unnerving juxtaposition between past and present.

The painter pioneered the use of photographs by artists, and had been campaigning since the 1890s that this secret practice should be exposed. He daringly advertised his own use of photographs in his art criticism and in inscriptions on the canvas itself. However, he was adamant that they were only a preliminary aid, the starting point in the creative process to which the artist must impose his own stamp of originality. He compared this process with acting: ‘We have to do with the subject something similar to what is done by an actor with a role in the theatre.’

Sickert had been an actor, and in 1880 had trod the boards at Sadler’s Wells. During the 1930s he became involved with the theatre again, donating the proceeds of the sale of his The Raising of Lazarus c. 1929-1932 [below] to the struggling venue. He also befriended several leading contemporary actors and actresses, John Gielgud (whose father he had known), Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies (the subject of his magisterial Miss Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies as Isabella of France 1932 [below]) and Ashcroft. His plea to art students found resonance with issues affecting contemporary theatre, which was actively trying to modernise the presentation of classic plays, particularly Shakespeare. While theatre companies sought to achieve this through changing Shakespeare’s language, Sickert focused on presenting paintings of the theatre, often of Shakespearean subjects, which had been obviously sourced from photographs, either from newspapers or taken for the artist by press photographers who would attend matinees with him.

This desire to combine aspects of the past and present, photography and colour seems very relevant to contemporary art practice. For example, Clare Woods has used Sickert’s Juliet and Her Nurse 1935-1936, as well as the shocking contemporary press photograph of Davinia Turrell holding a burns mask to her face after she was caught in the 7/7 London bombings, as sources for her painting Silent Suzan 2014. Woods’s powerful work is just the sort of juxtaposition that Sickert was encouraging artists to explore.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Variation on Peggy' 1934-1935

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Variation on Peggy
1934-1935
Oil paint on canvas
578 × 718 mm
Frame: 807 × 941 × 96 mm
Tate
Bequeathed by Dame Peggy Ashcroft 1992

 

 

Sickert had used photographs as source material since the 1890s, but it was not until the 1930s that their use became a routine part of his practice. The image for Variation on Peggy [above] was taken from a black and white photograph of Peggy Ashcroft (1907-1991), the classical actress, on holiday in Venice, which was published in the Radio Times. She is seen against the parapet wall of the Accademia Bridge with the Grand Canal behind, and the domes of the Church of Santa Maria della Salute visible above her head.

The loose handling of paint is typical of Sickert’s late paintings. Pigment is brushed in roughly with little attention to the minutiae of naturalistic detail, even in sections that would traditionally warrant such attention such as the sitter’s face, and in many areas patches of canvas show through the lattice of coloured marks. In the lower half the squaring-up lines used to facilitate the transfer of the photographic image onto the canvas are clearly visible. Reference to the mechanical procedure of picture making belies the sense of immediacy suggested by the carefree application of paint.

Even in the context of the lightened palette of Sickert’s late work, the colours in Variation on Peggy are exceptional both in their tone and their eccentricity. Subtle modulations of pale chalky blue in the sky continue down through parts of the church and surrounding buildings to the canal. The blue expanse of water is interspersed with touches of green representing boats and piers, and with large passages of green and pink suggesting the reflections and shadows of buildings. The details of the buildings themselves are shown in pink, green and dark brown, and rendered in the same cursory manner as the rest of the painting. The figure of Ashcroft is modelled in various shades of green: the pale green of her dress blends with the warmer green of her face and neck, and the rich, deep green of her hair. Her profile is highlighted by the contrast between the blue water and the green of her face and further accentuated by the dark outline of her forehead, nose, lips and chin. By contrast, the right side of the figure blends more harmoniously with its predominantly pink and green background.

Though the theatre had been an important subject matter in Sickert’s work since the late 1880s, it was only in the mid 1920s that he began to paint large scale portraits of leading actors and actresses on and off the stage. Ashcroft’s performance next to Paul Robeson in Ellen Van Volkenburg’s 1930 production of Othello had brought the actress to prominence. Variation on Peggy is one of at least fifteen paintings by Sickert of her.

Toby Treves. “Walter Richard Sickert: Variation on Peggy,” on the Tate website May 2000 [Online] Cited 10/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France' 1932

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France
1932
Oil paint on canvas
Tate
Presented by the National Art Collections Fund, the Contemporary Art Society and Frank C. Stoop through the Contemporary Art Society 1932

 

 

This large, elongated canvas is dominated by the radiant figure of the actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, waiting offstage during a rehearsal of the play Edward II by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). She wears the Elizabethan costume, pearls and emerald ring of the character of Queen Isabella of France. The inscription ‘La Louve’, or ‘she-wolf’, alludes to Isabella’s ruthlessness. Although Ffrangcon-Davies and Sickert were close friends at the time it was painted, she did not sit for the portrait, which was made from a photograph taken by a professional photographer named Bertram Park.

 

Sickert loved the theatre and became a friend of the actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies after writing her a fan letter in 1932. This painting shows her in the role of Queen Isabella of France in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play Edward II. The name ‘La Louve’ means ‘she-wolf’, a hostile title given to the historical Isabella. The production had taken place nine years earlier, and Sickert painted this picture from a small photograph, taken by Bertram Park, of the actress on stage. The painting was an immediate success and the Daily Mail described it as ‘Mr Sickert’s Best Work’.

Tate Gallery label, September 2016

 

Subject and style

Inevitably, Sickert also conceived a desire to paint a more memorable individual portrait of Ffrangcon-Davies, but, as he explained to her, he had no desire for her to pose or sit for him.7 Instead, he selected an image from her own album of publicity photographs, showing her as Queen Isabella of France in the play Edward II (published 1594) by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Ffrangcon-Davies had performed the role in a Phoenix Society production at the Regent and Court Theatres in 1923. The photograph was apparently a quick snapshot taken during a dress rehearsal while the actress was waiting in the wings for her stage entrance. The whereabouts of the photograph is now unknown (probably because Sickert never returned it to Ffrangcon-Davies after borrowing it from her album). The photographer, Bertram Park, was the husband of Yvonne Gregory, also a photographer who took many official shots of the actress. Sickert scaled up the image onto a large canvas (8 x 3 feet) and added the inscription ‘Bertram Park phot.’, acknowledging the source for the image. He also added the title ‘La Louve’ (The She-Wolf) along the bottom of the painting, referring to the ruthless character of Queen Isabella who, with her lover Roger Mortimer, deposed and murdered her husband, Edward II, with both perpetrators described in the play as wolves.

In 1923, when she took on the role of Isabella, Ffrangcon-Davies was still making a name for herself. She had achieved a breakthrough with her highly acclaimed performance in The Immortal Hour (1922), but was still primarily known as a singer and was eager to extend her acting repertoire. Isabella in Edward II was one of her first major classical roles, but reviews of her performance were mixed. The critic in the Outlook wrote: ‘Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was not at all good as Queen Isabella: her realistic sobs and groans were hopelessly out of the proper key.’8 However, the New Statesman was more impressed:

One figure stands out, that of the Queen. I have never seen Miss Ffrangcon-Davies act before and was immensely impressed by the dignity of her performance. She has excellent gesture, a musical voice, and she looked most graceful and finished. But better by far than this she spoke intelligently, as if she realised the meaning and the measure of the words she was speaking. While she was acting one could remember how supremely Marlowe could write.9

.
The Saturday Review reported that ‘The queen of Miss Ffrangcon-Davies was a beautifully firm piece of work and as good to look upon as a portrait of the Flemish school’.10 Nine years later Sickert evidently also relished the aesthetic quality of the picture of the actress in her elaborate Elizabethan costume, complete with pearl necklaces and a large emerald ring. Ffrangcon-Davies recalled that the dress, which was designed by Grace Lovat-Fraser, was made of gold lamé and that her hair had also been painted gold to match the outfit. The full skirt was flat at the front and back but wide at the sides. Sickert had not seen the play himself and the source photograph upon which the painting was based was a black and white image, so he was required to imagine his own colour scheme for the dress.

Sickert’s painting technique was well established during the 1930s and evidence of the various stages of his regimen is clearly visible in Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France. The artist first transferred the image from the photograph to the canvas using the squaring-up method. The drawn grid of squares can still clearly be seen within the skirt and body of the dress. The composition was then sketched in using a pink underlayer, in varying degrees of depth. A darker tone corresponds to areas of shadow while a lighter tone picks out the highlights. In many areas patches of the underdrawing have been left as an integral part of the final painting. Sickert usually left this first layer to dry for at least a month,11 and it was possibly during this stage in the process that Ffrangcon-Davies dined with the Sickerts at their home on 21 July 1932. She recorded in her diary that the painting was well underway and that Sickert had apparently greatly alarmed his wife, Thérèse Lessore, by returning from the studio with the exhortation, ‘Thank God Gwen’s dry and on the operating table’.12 The lettering appears to have been added shortly after this since a letter of 25 July informed Ffrangcon-Davies that the artist had spent ‘a lovely day with the she-wolf. Got the lettering exactly the right place and right size.’13 In the later stages of the process Sickert added the local colouring for the figure over the bone-dry underpainting. Broadly applied white/cream brushstrokes constitute the texture of the dress while brown and black add definition to the face and torso. Finally, small touches of red and green were added to give the figure some depth and minimal warmth. Sickert was working on the canvas right up until it went on display at the Wilson Galleries in early September 1932. When the critic R.R. Tatlock first saw it at the exhibition he reported that the pigment was still wet.14

 

Reception

Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was well received by the critics who raved over both its technical qualities and its success as a portrait. Frank Rutter described the limited colour palette as a ‘tour-de-force’, and declared that Sickert had ‘never shown his wonderful mastery of light and shade more completely and brilliantly than in this painting’.15 Similarly Tatlock, writing in the Daily Telegraph, considered it the ‘high water mark’ of the artist’s achievements, ‘better aesthetically than anything achieved or likely to be achieved by any other living artist’.16 He praised the rich painterly quality of the brushwork and the dynamism of the composition. The Times was equally expansive:

To have given the portrait so genuinely monumental a composition, without the slightest sign that it is a miniature greatly enlarged in size, is a most remarkable achievement. It is this grand and statuesque quality in the figure which strikes one immediately … The handling of the paint is all that we expect of Mr Sickert, and perhaps even more free and brilliant than usual. The colour is equally beautiful, the prevailing brown-pink being quickened with one single note of bright green, and the dull slate black background – perhaps the photograph suggested this – making an unexpected, almost eccentric, but still a successful contrast with the play of colour on the dress.17

.
Although Sickert had depicted a performance from nine years before, there was a sense of topicality about the work that contributed to its popularity. Ffrangcon-Davies was a contemporary star of the stage, most famous for her performance as Juliet to John Gielgud’s Romeo. At the same time as her portrait was on display in St James’s she was appearing at the Wyndham’s Theatre in nearby Charing Cross in her latest play, The Way to the Stars. The Morning Post attributed at least some of the painting’s success to the genius of the subject rather than the artist: ‘The poise of the figure has a Tintoretto like monumentality, but the face and eyes suggest the latent powers of expression that make her supreme on the stage.’18 The Western Morning News saw Sickert as resurrecting the grand tradition of portraits of London thespians made famous by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).19 The large scale of the picture, the dramatic full-length figure, and the focus on a dominant, scheming literary female character may also have a visual precedent in John Singer Sargent’s painting, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 (Tate N02053, fig.2). Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies marked a revival in Sickert’s interest in the stage and over the next ten years he painted a number of actors and actresses in character including Edith Evans, Fabia Drake, Paul Robeson, Leslie Banks, Sir Nigel Playfair, Johnstone Forbes-Robertson, Valerie Tudor and William Fox and Peggy Ashcroft (see Tate T06601).

 

Photographic source

Amidst the glowing reviews in the newspapers, the Manchester Evening News also published an interview with Ffrangcon-Davies concerning the circumstances of the picture.20 In the article, entitled ‘A Portrait I Never Sat For’, the actress emphasised that the painting was entirely based upon a photographic source. Sickert’s own ready confirmation of the fact was also quoted in a typically teasing statement:

I have made it quite clear by painting ‘Bertram Park Photo’ in a corner of the canvas that the portrait was copied from a photograph. The photographer has done all the ground work for me. He has caught the life and movement of the pose. So he deserves his name in a prominent position. Painting a portrait is like catching a butterfly. I have painted portraits with my subject before me. But it is seldom absolutely satisfactory. Your sitter, particularly if she is a lady, dislikes keeping regular appointments. She is often late. The artist resents his time being wasted. When his subject does arrive she finds it difficult to sit perfectly still for long intervals. Her irritation shows in her face. That expression very often steals into the portrait. I find a document from which to copy a satisfactory way of painting a portrait.21

.
Comparison of the painting with the original photograph (as reproduced in Vogue, December 1923)22 demonstrates Sickert’s ability to reproduce faithfully a found image and yet also subtly alter the visual emphasis of that image to achieve a new aesthetic effect. In this instance he reduced the background space surrounding the actress, particularly on the right-hand side where the pictorial edge truncates the figure of the queen. She therefore appears to dominate utterly the space she inhabits. The instantaneous, innocuous quality of Park’s photograph of Ffrangcon-Davies self-consciously waiting in the wings is replaced in the painting by a sense of dramatic monumentality and suspense. The actress seems to occupy the character of the scheming queen wholly and her white face and immense dark eyes appear skull-like and ghostly against the darkness of the background. She looks imperious and dangerous, yet beautiful and awe-inspiring. As the art historian David Peters Corbett has pointed out, Sickert’s transformation of the candid neutrality of the photograph into the high tension and sagacity of the painting asserts unequivocal artistic control over an image, which he freely admits was not of his making.23 Sickert’s carefully inserted painted allusion to the role of the photographer Bertram Park is ultimately offset, and even countermanded, by the visibility of his own lines of squaring-up within the figure of the actress. Some of these lines even appear to have been strengthened over the top of the preceding painted layers thereby making transparent the artist’s creative ownership of the image.

Sickert’s use of images derived from photographs has drawn both condemnation and praise from contemporary and subsequent commentators. Despite the critical success of Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France other paintings based upon photographic sources attracted frequent criticism (see, for example, Miss Earhart’s Arrival, Tate T03360). The appropriation of found images and the imitative element of the process represented, to some, evidence of Sickert’s declining creative faculties. Even those whom Sickert counted as friends struggled with the artistic credibility of his later works. The painter William Rothenstein, for example, wrote in his memoirs that ‘the enlargements he [Sickert] makes from photographs of his sitters, of actors and actresses especially, are scarcely worthy of him or of his subjects’.24 He complained: ‘Occasionally one is asked to paint a posthumous portrait from photographs: to me, always an unattractive task. But Sickert delights in painting posthumous presentments of the living!’25 D.S. MacColl similarly thought that Sickert’s photograph-based paintings ought ‘not to be remembered against him’.26 In more recent years, however, the practice has been reinterpreted as a highly original artistic approach, prophetic of the celebrated photograph-based works by such painters as Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.27

Sickert once said that photography was like alcohol: it should only be used by someone who could do without it.28 His paintings based upon photographic sources are neither artistically inferior nor inherently original. Many artists used photographs as a visual aid to painting, although few admitted to it as openly and readily as Sickert. Throughout his career he struggled with the quest for technical solutions to the problems of making art. He believed he had found the answer to painting by around 1915 and continued to try and persuade artists to follow his scheme throughout his life. In 1934 he lectured to a group of art students: ‘I am going to tell you in about ten minutes of a quarter of hour how to paint and what painting consists of … You simply use materials which you can buy anywhere and if you know how to use them and use them properly it is very simple.’29 However, he continued to struggle with capturing the essence of a subject in line, through drawing, for the rest of his life. His use of photographs as a compositional and structural basis for painting was a natural progression from his previous reliance on drawings, or as the art historian Rebecca Daniels has described it, a modernisation of the process of sketching.30 He believed that the snapshot photograph captured the same essence of a sitter’s appearance and character as the rapid sketching technique he had endorsed until then. He summarised his opinions in an article of 1929:

A photograph is the most precious document obtainable by a sculptor, a painter, or a draughtsman. Canaletto based his work on tracings made with the camera lucida. Turner’s studio was crammed with negatives. Moreau-Néalton’s biography of Millet contains documentary evidence that Millet found photographs of use. Degas took photographs. Lenbach photographed his sitters. To forbid the artist the use of available documents of which the photograph is the most valuable, is to deny to a historian the study of contemporary shorthand reports. The facts remain at the disposition of the artist. I am for the lean ‘war’ horse.31

.
The precedent for using photographs in this way is apparent in the work of Sickert’s most revered mentor, Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Sickert was certainly familiar with one portrait by Degas based upon a photograph, Princess Pauline de Metternich c. 1865 (National Gallery, London, formerly Tate Gallery),32 which he praised in a catalogue essay of March 1923.33 Degas’s portrait of the wife of the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Paris is partially based on a photograph by Eugène Disderi used by the subject as a ‘carte-de-visite’.34 In a manner that recalls Sickert’s treatment of the photograph of Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Degas cropped the image (removing the figure of the princess’s husband) and imposed upon the composition an imagined colour scheme and decorative background. The artist has also acknowledged the photographic source of the portrait, deliberately blurring and softening the features of the sitter so that they appear indistinct, as though she has moved during the exposure. Both Sickert and Degas exploited photography as a modern form of image-making but, rather than being slavish imitators of the characteristics of the art, they used it solely as a useful tool at their disposal. They selected or ‘teased’ elements from photographs but always sought to reassert their own artistic dominance over the original source. Sickert compared this process to an actor reinterpreting a role in the theatre.35

Extract from Nicola Moorby. “Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France 1932,” on the Tate website September 2005 [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

Footnotes

7. Tate Archive TAV 564A.
8. Outlook, 24 November 1923, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
9. Ralph Wright, New Statesman, November 1923, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
10. Saturday Review, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
11. ‘Walter Sickert’s Class: Method of Instruction’, Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1930.
12. Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, unpublished diary entry, 7 April 1932, photocopy in Tate Catalogue file.
13. Walter Sickert, transcription of letter to Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, 25 July 1932, Tate Archive.
14. R.R. Tatlock, ‘Sickert’s New Masterpiece’, Daily Telegraph, 6 September 1932.
15. Quoted in Rose 2003, p. 61.
16. Tatlock, 6 September 1932.
17. ‘A Portrait by Mr Sickert’, Times, 7 September 1932.
18. Quoted in Rose 2003, p. 61.
19. Western Morning News, 7 September 1932.
20. ‘A Portrait I Never Sat For – Miss Ffrangcon-Davies’, Manchester Evening News, 6 September 1932.
21. Ibid.
22. Reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, fig. 215, p. 310.
23. David Peters Corbett, Walter Sickert, London 2001, p. 60.
24. William Rothenstein, Since Fifty: Men and Memories, 1922-1938, London 1939, p. 276.
25. Ibid., p. 16.
26. Quoted in Richard Shone, Sickert in the Tate, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 1989, p. 13.
27. Richard Morphet, ‘The Modernity of Late Sickert’, Studio International, vol. 190, July-August 1975, p. 35.
28. Cicely Hey, Walter Sickert 1860-1942: Sketch for a Portrait, 10 February 1961, BBC Home Service, LP 26655, Side 1.
29. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Engraving, Etching, Etc.’, Lecture at Margate School of Art, 23 November 1934, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p. 661.
30. Rebecca Daniels, ‘Richard Sickert: The Art of Photography’, in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004, p. 27.
31. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Artists and the Camera’, Times, 15 August 1929, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 591.
32. Reproduced at National Gallery, London, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hilaire-germain-edgar-degas-princess-pauline-de-metternich, accessed March 2011.
33. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘The Sculptor of Movement’, in Exhibition of the Works in Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Leicester Galleries, London 1923, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 457.
34. Reproduced in David Bomford, Art in the Making: Degas, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2004, p. 62.
35. Walter Sickert, ‘Squaring up a Drawing’, Lecture at Margate School of Art, 2 November 1934, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 637.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor) 1930 below; at second right, The Servant of Abraham 1929 below; and at right Lazarus Breaks His Fast 1927 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor)' 1930

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor)
1930
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 635 × 762 mm
Frame: 824 × 950 × 100 mm
Tate
Purchased 1932

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self-Portrait. Lazarus Breaks his Fast' c. 1927

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self-Portrait. Lazarus Breaks his Fast
c. 1927
Oil paint on canvas
152 x 121cm
Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
Purchased from the artist, 1960

 

 

This work is the first of a series of three self-portraits with biblical titles that Sickert painted in the late 1920s. Made soon after he had recovered from a serious illness, the title refers to a man who Christ raised from the dead. The composition was based on a photograph of Sickert take by his wife Thérèse Lessore. Imitating the tonal contrast of the photograph allowed Sickert to abandon line, constructing the painting from loosely painted patches of colour. Sickert was also interested in how photography could freeze a dramatic moment.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Servant of Abraham' 1929

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Servant of Abraham
1929
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 508 mm
Frame: 815 × 717 × 78 mm
Tate. Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1959

 

 

In contrast to the unkempt and vulnerable figure in Lazarus Breaks his Fast, displayed nearby, here Sickert presents himself as a powerful biblical figure. Although the picture is relatively small, the artist’s head is larger than life-size. He appears to loom over the viewer, evoking a forceful presence. The dramatic framing can be compared to modern form of image-making such as photography and cinematography. Sicker imagined the work as part of a larger wall-painting stating, ‘We cannot well have pictures on a large scale nowadays, but we can have small fragments of pictures on a colossal scale’.

Wall text

 

This is, in fact, a self-portrait. Sickert painted himself many times, and during the 1920s he sometimes depicted himself as a biblical figure. He made this at the age of sixty-nine, working from a squared-up photograph which had been taken by his third wife, Thérèse Lessore. He intended that it should look like part of a larger wall-painting and observed, ‘We cannot well have pictures on a large scale nowadays, but we can have small fragments of pictures on a colossal scale’. Abraham was an Old Testament patriarch, but it is not known why Sickert chose this title, or why he felt it applicable to himself.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Thérèse Lessore photograph of Walter Sickert

 

Thérèse Lessore photograph of Walter Sickert

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert was an English painter and printmaker who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century.

Sickert was a cosmopolitan and eccentric who often favoured ordinary people and urban scenes as his subjects. His work also included portraits of well-known personalities and images derived from press photographs. He is considered a prominent figure in the transition from Impressionism to Modernism.

Sickert was born in Munich, Germany on 31 May 1860, the eldest son of Oswald Sickert, a Danish-German artist, and his wife, Eleanor Louisa Henry, who was an illegitimate daughter of the British astronomer Richard Sheepshanks. In 1868, following the German annexation of Schleswig-Holstein, the family settled in Britain, where Oswald’s work had been recommended by Freiherrin Rebecca von Kreusser to Ralph Nicholson Wornum, who was Keeper of the National Gallery at the time. The family obtained British nationality. The young Sickert was sent to University College School from 1870 to 1871, before transferring to King’s College School, where he studied until the age of 18. Though he was the son and grandson of painters, he first sought a career as an actor; he appeared in small parts in Sir Henry Irving’s company, before taking up the study of art in 1881. After less than a year’s attendance at the Slade School, Sickert left to become a pupil and etching assistant to James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Sickert’s earliest paintings were small tonal studies painted alla prima from nature after Whistler’s example.

In 1883, he travelled to Paris and met Edgar Degas, whose use of pictorial space and emphasis on drawing would have a powerful effect on Sickert’s work. He developed a personal version of Impressionism, favouring sombre colouration. Following Degas’ advice, Sickert painted in the studio, working from drawings and memory as an escape from “the tyranny of nature”. In 1888 Sickert joined the New English Art Club, a group of French-influenced realist artists. Sickert’s first major works, dating from the late 1880s, were portrayals of scenes in London music halls. One of the two paintings he exhibited at the NEAC in April 1888, Katie Lawrence at Gatti’s, which portrayed a well known music hall singer of the era, incited controversy “more heated than any other surrounding an English painting in the late 19th century”. Sickert’s rendering was denounced as ugly and vulgar, and his choice of subject matter was deplored as too tawdry for art, as female performers were popularly viewed as morally akin to prostitutes. The painting announced what would be Sickert’s recurring interest in sexually provocative themes.

In the late 1880s, Sickert spent much of his time in France, especially in Dieppe, which he first visited in mid-1885, and where his mistress, and possibly his illegitimate son, lived. During this period Sickert began writing art criticism for various publications. Between 1894 and 1904 Sickert made a series of visits to Venice, initially focusing on the city’s topography; it was during his last painting trip in 1903-1904 that, forced indoors by inclement weather, he developed a distinctive approach to the multiple figure tableau that he further explored on his return to Britain. The models for many of the Venetian paintings are believed to have been prostitutes, with whom Sickert may have had sex.

Sickert’s fascination with urban culture accounted for his acquisition of studios in working-class sections of London, first in Cumberland Market in the 1890s, then in Camden Town in 1905. The latter location provided an event that would secure Sickert’s prominence in the realist movement in Britain. On 11 September 1907, Emily Dimmock, a prostitute cheating on her partner, was murdered in her home at Agar Grove (then St Paul’s Road), Camden. After sexual intercourse the man had slit her throat open while she was asleep, then left in the morning. The Camden Town murder became an ongoing source of prurient sensationalism in the press. For several years Sickert had already been painting lugubrious female nudes on beds, and continued to do so, deliberately challenging the conventional approach to life painting – “The modern flood of representations of vacuous images dignified by the name of ‘the nude’ represents an artistic and intellectual bankruptcy” – giving four of them, which included a male figure, the title, The Camden Town Murder, and causing a controversy which ensured attention for his work. These paintings do not show violence, however, but a sad thoughtfulness, explained by the fact that three of them were originally exhibited with completely different titles, one more appropriately being What Shall We Do for the Rent?, and the first in the series, Summer Afternoon.

While the painterly handling of the works inspired comparison to Impressionism, and the emotional tone suggested a narrative more akin to genre painting, specifically Degas’s Interior, the documentary realism of the Camden Town paintings was without precedent in British art. These and other works were painted in heavy impasto and narrow tonal range. Sickert’s best known work, Ennui (c. 1913), reveals his interest in Victorian narrative genres. The composition, which exists in at least five painted versions and was also made into an etching, depicts a couple in a dingy interior gazing abstractedly into empty space, as though they can no longer communicate with each other.

Anonymous text on the Arts Dot website Nd [Online] Cited 08/05/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, High-Steppers about 1938-1939 below; and at right, Variation on ‘Othello’ c. 1933-1934 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'High-Steppers' about 1938-1939

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
High-Steppers
About 1938-1939
Oil on canvas
132.00 x 122.50cm
Framed: 149.50 x 139.50 x 10.00cm
National Galleries of Scotland
Purchased 1979

 

 

High-Steppers is probably Sickert’s last painting to show a theatre scene, one of his favourite subjects. It is his third painting of the Plaza Tiller Girls, a dance troupe who performed at the Plaza cinema in Piccadilly, entertaining the audience before the start of the film. Although Sickert was a frequent visitor to the theatre, he never made any drawings or paintings there; instead, he preferred to work from press photographs. All three paintings of the Plaza Tiller Girls were based on a photograph which appeared in The Evening News in 1927.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Variation on 'Othello'' c. 1933-1934

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Variation on ‘Othello’
c. 1933-1934
Oil paint on canvas
1100 × 730 mm
Bristol Culture: Bristol Museums & Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation views of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing in the bottom photograph at top left, King George V and his Racing Manager – A Conversation Piece at Aintree 1927 below; at second left, Edward VIII 1936 below; and at right, The Seducer c. 1929-1930 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'King George V and his Racing Manager: A Conversation Piece at Aintree' 1927

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
King George V and his Racing Manager: A Conversation Piece at Aintree
1927
Oil on canvas
The Royal Collection Trust

 

 

This portrait was closely based on a press photograph published in ‘The News Chronicle’ in March 1927, showing King George V, in profile, alongside Major Fetherstonhaugh, his racing manager from 1922-31. The King attended Aintree on 25 March, without Queen Mary and his Diary recalls: ‘Rained in sheets all the morning. Cleared up before the first race. There were large crowds. The Grand National was won by Mrs Partridges’s “Sprig”…, there were 37 runners, a very good race and no one hurt at all.’

Sickert blatantly acknowledged the source of the painting in the inscription on the upper left: ‘By Courtesy of Topical Press… 11 + 12 Red Lion / Court E.C.4. / Aintree 25.3.27’, and he allowed the painting and the photograph to be reproduced side by side. This act brought into focus the continuing debate on originality in art and the relationship between painting and photography. In a lecture in 1934 he recalled that ‘… neither knew they were being photographed. In those circumstances you get much more information… the expression that Major Featherstonaugh’s face was so very interesting’.

Sickert was to paint the King again in 1935, on this occasion with Queen Mary on a Jubilee drive (private collection). This portrait was also painted from a press photograph and it similarly captures the immediacy of a sudden, fleeting moment. It is interesting to recall that in 1883 Sickert met Edgar Degas, who too used photographs throughout his working life often wishing to create an intimate view, painted as if ‘through a keyhole’.

The painting was offered to Glasgow City Art Gallery in 1931, but deemed insufficiently majestic. It was also rejected by the Tate, the Victoria Art Galley, Bath and by George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 before its eventual purchase by Queen Elizabeth in 1951.

Text from the Google Arts & Culture website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Edward VIII' 1936

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Edward VIII
1936
Oil on canvas

 

 

The last gallery astounds, even today, with its photo-based paintings from the late 1920s and 30s. Alexander Gavin Henderson, 2nd Lord Faringdon descends a staircase, all in white, like a bleached Luc Tuymans. Edward G Robinson and Joan Blondell leer out of the limelight of a gangster movie poster in an amazing work of proto pop. Most haunting of all is a portrait of Edward VIII emerging from a limousine in 1936. It shows Sickert as the most incisive – and premonitory – of history painters. The king’s legs are spindly, his sideways gaze shifty and he holds a busby to himself like an impotent shield. He is fading out already, eyes and face growing spectral in Sickert’s pale paint. Two months later, he will abdicate.

Laura Cumming. “Walter Sickert review – a master of menace,” on The Guardian website Sun 1 May 2022 [Online] Cited 12/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Seducer' c. 1929-1930

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Seducer
c. 1929-1930
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 425 × 625 mm
Frame: 589 × 766 × 70 mm
Tate
Purchased 1989

 

 

The Seducer is an example of Sickert’s late work which he called ‘echoes’. These were subject pictures and portraits based on and ‘echoing’ black and white 19th century prints and illustrations. Sickert’s father had been an illustrator and the ‘echoes’ are replete with a sense of nostalgia for the Victorian era. This example is based on an original by Sir John Gilbert (1819-1897) whose romantic and melodramatic narratives Sickert admired.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Pimlico' c. 1937

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Pimlico
c. 1937
Oil on canvas
Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery & Museums Collections)
Purchased in 1938 with income from the Macdonald Bequest

 

 

Tate Britain
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
United Kingdom
Phone: +44 20 7887 8888

Opening hours:
10.00am – 18.00pm daily

Tate Britain website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

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-1930s
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 agonising 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-1930s
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 63cm)
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
74cm (29.1″); Width: 61.5cm (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. 1790-1791
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 × 24cm
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.

.
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

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

02
Feb
20

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

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

Visited October 2019 posted 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

.
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.”

.
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 72.5cm
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. 1805-1809 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 mm
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 mm
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 60cm
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. 1804-1811

 

 

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, out of shot); The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan (c. 1805-1809); The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth (1805); and The Bard, from Gray (? 1809)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

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 1806-1807 (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,” in 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)
Photo: 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
1824-1827
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)
1824-1827
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
1824-1827
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 colour 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)
1824-1827
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
1824-1827
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 × 40.7cm (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 × 40.7cm (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
1824-1827
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

 

 

Tate Britain
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
United Kingdom
Phone: +44 20 7887 8888

Opening hours:
10.00am – 18.00pm daily

Tate Britain website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

29
Jan
20

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

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

Visited October 2019 posted January 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. 1805-1809 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 1824-1827 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. 1819-1820. 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 (1784-1785) and at right, Joseph Ordering Simeon to be Bound (1784-1785)
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)
1784-1785
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. 1779-1780)
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. 1779-1780
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 behaviour 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. 1785-1790)
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. 1780-1785
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. 1780-1785)
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. 1780-1785
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 glue-based 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. 1792-1793
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. 1780-1785
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. 1794-1796
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)
Pl