William Blake Newton 1795–c. 1805

Artwork details

Artist
William Blake 1757–1827
Title
Newton
Date 1795–c. 1805
Medium Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions Support: 460 x 600 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Reference
N05058
On display at Tate Britain

Display caption

As an example of rational thought, Newton was an important figure for Lavater. Arguing for the veracity of physiognomy, Lavater stated that greatness was ‘visible in every well drawn outline’ of the scientist’s head. Reiterating a pervasive racial stereotype, he asked ‘Could the mind of Newton have invented the theory of light, residing in the head of a Negro’.

Blake, however, was critical of reductive scientific thought. In this picture, the straight lines and sharp angles of Newton’s profile suggest that he cannot see beyond the rules of his compass. Behind him, the colourful, textured rock may be seen to represent the creative world, to which he is blind.

March 2011

About this artwork