William Blake

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing

c.1786

On display at Tate Britain

Artist
William Blake 1757–1827
Medium
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 475 x 675 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910
Reference
N02686

Display caption

This illustrates Titania's instruction to her
fairy train in the last scene of Shakespeare's
A Midsummer Night's Dream:

 

Hand in hand, with fairy grace,

Will we sing, and bless this place.

 

Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies, are on the left. Puck, the perplexer
of mortals, faces us. The fairies Moth
and Peaseblossom are easily identifiable.

 

During the 1780s there was a growing
taste for Shakespeare illustrations. Blake
had formed a print-publishing partnership
in 1784. If the approximate dating of this
work is correct, it may represent an attempt
by Blake to break into this market.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

N02686 Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1785

N 02686 / B 161
Pencil and watercolour, irregular 475×675 (18 3/4×26 1/2)
Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910
PROVENANCE Mrs Blake, sold to Francis Cary, sold Christie's 13 March 1895 (16) £3.10.0 bt. Leggatt; Alfred A. de Pass, given 1910 to the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED Carfax 1904 (34); Tate Gallery (45), Manchester (52), Nottingham (34) and Edinburgh (37) 1913–14; Shakespeare in Art, Arts Council, April–May 1964 (33); New Haven and Toronto 1982–3 (16, repr.)
LITERATURE Gilchrist 1863, I, p.366; Rossetti 1863, p.237 no.212, and 1880, p.251 no.240; Blunt 1959, p.10; Gert Schiff, Johann Heinrich Füssli, ein Sommernachtstraum 1961, p.20, pl.13; Merchant in Apollo, LXXIX, 1964, pp.320–2, pl.6 (reprinted in Essick 1973, pp.241–3, pl.66); Martin Butlin, ‘Another Blake Watercolour cleaned at the Tate Gallery’ in Blake Newsletter, VI, 1972–3, p.43; Bindman 1977, pp.37–8, pl.32; Paley 1978, p.20; Butlin 1981, p.61 no.161, colour pl.182; Warner 1984, p.155, pl.89; Baine 1986, p.4

This watercolour illustrates the closing scene of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It is close in style and handling to the three finished watercolours of events from the life of Joseph exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1785 (Butlin 1981, nos.155–7, colour pls.183–5); there seems no reason to adopt the slightly later dating of c. 1785–87 proposed by David Bindman (exh. cat. 1982–3, loc.cit.). Two further watercolours showing ‘Oberon and Titania, preceded by Puck’ and ‘Oberon and Titania on a Lily’ are distinct in style and seem to date from the early 1790s (see Butlin 1981, nos.245–6, pls.294–5).
The watercolour was cleaned and restored to something near its original brilliance in 1973.


Published in:
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990

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