Press Release

Tate acquires eight unique works by William Blake for the nation

Tate is delighted to announce that eight hand-coloured etchings by William Blake (1757-1827) have been acquired for the nation.

Tate is delighted to announce that eight hand-coloured etchings by William Blake (1757–1827) have been acquired for the nation. These beautiful works have been acquired for Tate Collection with the assistance of independent charity The Art Fund, Tate Members, Tate Patrons and the generosity of the public.

These works were inherited by Blake’s widow Catherine, who later gave them to a gentleman called Frederick Tatham. Their ownership is then unknown, until they were purchased among a box of secondhand books bought at a local book sale in the late 1970s. Blake’s work is rarely available for purchase, making a recent discovery like this all the more remarkable. The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, offered them to Tate as a single group, providing the opportunity to raise the £441,000 needed to secure them. £200,000 of this was provided by Tate Members, with another £141,000 generously donated by The Art Fund. Further support came from Tate Patrons and a number of private donations.

In the 1790s, Blake combined his talents as writer and visual artist, creating an extraordinary series of illuminated books. These were printed by the artist himself, with the help of his wife. He went on to reproduce images from these books as a set of separate relief etchings, each finished in pen and ink and hand-coloured by layering tempera on watercolour, to create unique and independent works of art. This acquisition consists of eight such etchings: six from the major prophetic work The First Book of Urizen, one from the mythological poem The Book of Thel and one from his revolutionary prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Together, they show the wide range of Blake’s practice, from some of the most visceral Gothic images of the late 18th century, to beautiful and mysterious scenes from the artist’s visionary imagination.

Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate, said:

This was an extraordinary find, and I am delighted we have been able to acquire it for the nation. Blake has always been central to our historic collection of British art here at Tate, and these beautiful etchings will help us represent the amazing diversity of his work. I am most grateful to the owner and his family for making these works available to Tate at a special price and to The Art Fund, Tate Patrons, Tate Members and all the private donors whose contributions have helped to make this acquisition possible.

Stephen Deuchar, Director of The Art Fund, said:

These powerful etchings reveal the immense technical skill of William Blake, as well as his legendary imaginative range, and the story behind their discovery makes this acquisition all the more exciting. The Art Fund is pleased to have helped secure them for Tate, where they will join many other works by the artist that The Art Fund has helped save over the years.

The works will go on public display at Tate Britain in July 2010, and will travel to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art, Moscow in November 2011 for the exhibition William Blake and British Visionary Art. The works were previously lent to Tate Britain for the display I still go on/Till the Heavens and Earth are gone in November 2007.

William Blake (1757–1827) was a poet, printmaker, visionary and artist whose work was both profoundly personal and universal. Overlooked by many of his contemporaries, Blake was always certain that his achievements would one day be properly recognised and, in the early 1920s, Tate created the first ever gallery devoted to his work. To this day Blake’s work has been a popular feature of Tate Britain’s regularly changing displays, playing a significant role in shaping the extraordinary public reputation which Blake now enjoys.

Since it was founded in 1903, The Art Fund has helped bring 155 works by William Blake into public collections through grants, gifts and bequests, including 45 works for Tate Britain.