Tate recreates fateful Blake show held in 1809

Mon Apr 20, 2009 12:40pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - London's Tate Britain gallery has recreated the only solo show staged by printmaker, poet and artist William Blake 200 years ago, when it was ignored by the public and ridiculed in a single, stinging review.

The 1809 show, held above Blake's brother's hosiery shop in Soho, central London, marked a turning point in the life of Blake, whose art, as opposed to his poetry, was largely overlooked until recent decades.

"The 1809 exhibition was Blake's most significant attempt to present himself as a public artist," curator Martin Myrone said at a press preview. "But he was damned as an idiot, as a madman, a fool."

The sole review of the small, 16-picture show by Robert Hunt in The Examiner said:

"... the poor man fancies himself a great master, and has painted a few wretched pictures, some of which are unintelligible allegory, others an attempt at sober character by caricature representation and the whole blotted and blurred and very badly drawn.

"These he calls an Exhibition, of which he has published a Catalog, or rather a farrago of nonsense, unintelligibleness, and egregious vanity, the wild effusions of a distempered brain."

That reaction, and the fact that so few people showed up to see his works, made Blake increasingly introverted and bitter about the state of British art.

It also influenced the way we think about Blake today, Myrone added.   Continued...

<p>A visitor to "William Blake's 1809 Exhibition" at the Tate Britain gallery views "Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels", a pen and ink and watercolour painting created in 1805, in London April 20, 2009. REUTERS/Stephen Hird</p>