Francesco Carelli, University of Milan
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.
Online you can see the exhibition Tate Britain managed bringing together 300 remarkable and rarely seen works and rediscover Blake as a visual artist for the 21st century. You can reimagine the artist’s work as he intended it to be experienced.
Blake’s art was a product of his tumultuous times, with revolution, war and progressive politics acting as the crucible of his unique imagination, yet he struggled to be understood and appreciated during his life. Now renowned as a poet, Blake also had grand ambitions as a visual artist and envisioned vast frescos that were never realised. For the first time, The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan c.1805-9 and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth c.1805 will be digitally enlarged and projected onto the gallery wall on the huge scale that Blake imagined.
The original artworks are displayed nearby in a restaging of Blake’s ill-fated exhibition of 1809, the artist’s only significant attempt to create a public reputation for himself as a painter. It is recreated the domestic room above his family hosiery shop, allowing visitors to encounter the paintings exactly as people did in 1809. 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 inspiration for the artist, offering an environment in which harsh realities and pure imagination were woven together. His creative freedom was also dependent on the unwavering support of those closest to him, his friends, family and patrons.
Tate highlights the vital presence of his wife Catherine who offered both practical assistance and became an unacknowledged hand in the production of his engravings and illuminated books. Tate showcases a series of illustrations to Pilgrim’s Progress 1824-27 and a copy of the book The complaint, and the consolation Night Thoughts 1797, now thought to be coloured by Catherine. 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.
The view is opened 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. Don’t forget his illuminated books such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience 1794, his central achievement as a radical poet.