Friday 1 May 2009

William Blake's 1809 exhibition recreated at Tate Britain

On a recent trip to London to see Bonnie 'Prince' Billy at the Royal Festival Hall (what a gig!) me and Zoe also managed to fit a huge amount into a short two day trip - going to lots of exhibitions, meeting Jessica for dinner, having lunch in Green Park, and spending time at some commercial galleries around Mayfair - a great trip all-in! One exhibition that I really enjoyed was a William Blake show at Tate Britain.

William Blake, The Angels hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre, c. 1805

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The idea behind the exhibition was to recreate the only solo show which Blake had, in 1809, in a room above his brother's hosiery shop on Broad Street, London. There were 16 works of art in the original exhibition but unfortunately some of these have been lost. However using an original catalogue from the exhibition it was possible for the curator to find a description of the missing paintings, their size, content, colours etc. So, in the exhibition blank spaces have been on the wall where those missing canvases would be, with some information from Blake's catalogue alongside them. The catalogue which Blake wrote for the exhibition was derided by critics at the time, for example "a farrago of nonsense, unintelligibleness, and egregious vanity, the wild effusions of a distempered brain" was the description by a contemporary critic Robert Hunt (quote taken from a piece by Stephen Adams in The Telegraph). It was evident from the quotes taken from the catalogue that Blake did have very high ambitions for his work but I always think it takes a huge amount of courage to put your art out on display for potential criticism so maybe having the high ambition and ego to go with it was a way of buffering himself against the criticism to come.

It's a really interesting idea, to use archival material to recreate an exhibition, as it can give us a better understanding of the way the exhibition was understood at the time. I also like the inclusion of contemporary work by other artists of the time as this illustrates just how different Blake's work was. The original exhibition was not a success, but I think it's safe to say, this time around will be a bit different!

The exhibition at Tate Britain is free and runs until 4 October 2009. The idea was devised by the curator, Martin Myrone.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this exhibition and your Blog brought back happy memories. I would never have thought that the blank spaces would work for the missing paintings but they but they felt right. I think because they gave a real sense of the size of his exhibition. The space also gave the viewer a chance to stop and read Blake's comments on the paintings from his exhibition catalogue. I think the curator was masterly!