Catalogue entry

A00045 Charon, Copy from the Antique? c.1779–80(?) (recto)
Part of a Face, Copy from the Antique? c.1779–80(?) (verso)

A 00045 / B 178
Recto: pen approx. 395×260 (15 1/2×10 1/4); Verso: pencil approx. 110×145 (4 1/4×5 3/4); on paper 435×338 (17 1/8×13 5/16)
Inscribed on recto by Frederick Tatham, ‘Charon by William Blake copied from something else not designed by him Fredk Tatham’ b.r.
Presented by Mrs John Richmond 1922
PROVENANCE Mrs Blake; Frederick Tatham; his brother-in-law George Richmond, sold Christic's 29 April 1897 (in 147, with nos.7, 9, 10, 15–20, 43, 50, 53–5, 107, 151, 166–9, 171 and 172) £2.10.0 bt ‘Dr. Cicely’ (Dr Richard Sisley); his daughter, Mrs John Richmond
LITERATURE Keynes Drawings 1970, no.82, recto repr.; Bindman 1977, pp.19, 228–9 n.5; Butlin 1981, pp.67–8 no.178, pl.251; Mary Lynn Johnson, ‘Observations on Blake's Paintings and Drawings’, in Blake, XVI, 1982–3, p.6

Blake did a number of copies after the Antique for engravings (see Russell Engravings 1912, pl.161–2, 166, 180–1) but no antique protypes or dependent engravings have been discovered that relate to the drawings on this sheet. However, Mary Lynn Johnson reports seeing at the gallery of Rafael Valls in London in 1977 a large finished pencil drawing from what seems to have been the same original as that shown on the recto; ‘the head, eyes, beard, staff, and general expression are too similar to be coincidental’. The figure on the Tate Gallery drawing is shown as being cut off at the bottom by what may be the decorated edge of a boat, assuming that Charon is portrayed, or the surface of water, in which case he is not. Mary Lynn Johnson, who is also suspicious of the identification with Charon, gives one piece of supporting evidence, however, the pen and ink drawing by George Romney of ‘Psyche being rowed across the Styx’ in the Fitzwilliam Museum (repr. Essick and Pearce 1978, pl.171), in which the general pose, the staff and the billowing of the cape of Charon are similar to those in the Tate drawing. The blank eyes support the suggestion that the drawing was made from an antique sculpture; on the other hand, it is just possible that the blind Orion may be the subject.

The verso also shows a detail from what appears to be a carved head with blank eyes, probably also copied from an antique sculpture.

The dating adopted here corresponds with the time that Blake might have copied from the Antique as a student at the Royal Academy. However, he continued to do copies of the Antique later in his life, including the famous occasion when he went to the cast rooms of the Royal Academy Schools to copy the Laocoön in 1815 (see Butlin 1981, no.679, pl.898A).

This work was formerly inventoried as no.3694 xviii.


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