Monday, 20 April 2009

William Blake at Tate Britain

A small but fascinating new exhibition opens at Tate Britain on April 20th. William Blake’s 1809 Exhibition recreates the only solo show the great English artist, poet and political radical mounted in his lifetime. Held above his brother’s shop near Golden Square in London’s Soho, a short walk from where Blake was born, it was not a critical success. Robert Hunt, writing in the contemporary journal The Examiner described the show as the work of ‘an unfortunate lunatic, whose personal inoffensiveness secures him from confinement’ consisting of a ‘few wretched pictures, some of which are unintelligible allegory . . . very badly drawn.’

The exhibition takes place in a single room. Ten of the original 16 works are on display; the other six are marked by white spaces representing works that have since been lost. There are a number of very striking images, such as Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels, a watercolour from 1805 of a design for an altar that was never built; Blake despaired of England’s inability to match Italy and France in the field of public art. But the strangest works are two images of English heroes. The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth are, apparently, celebrations of English heroes from Blake’s time, though so uncharacteristic are these laudatory works of war and power that the curator, Martin Myrone, still wonders if they are in some sense graphic satires. They certainly force us to look at Blake anew. The exhibition, which is free, runs to October 4th.

No comments:

Blog Directory