William Blake The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan c.1805–9

Artwork details

William Blake 1757–1827
The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan
Date c.1805–9
Medium Tempera on canvas
Dimensions Support: 762 x 625 mm
frame: 912 x 785 x 75 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1914
On display at Tate Britain

Display caption

Blake showed this painting in his 1809 exhibition. Admiral Lord Nelson is directing Leviathan, a great biblical sea monster which Blake used as a symbol of war.

This work is cracked and damaged because Blake used a thin canvas and chalk-based ground. The ground layer has darkened due to the conservation treatment of ‘glue’ lining; this is only suitable for oil paintings. Layers of glue in some of Blake’s paints have also darkened. The orange tonality comes from remnants of a discoloured varnish. The contraction of the glue-rich layers and the movement of the thin canvas has created stress, causing cracking.

September 2004

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