William Blake (1757–1827) is generally known as an artist-poet whose art illustrates the prophetic message of his poetry. Although his attitude towards nature is not always consistent, Blake frequently denounces the material world in his writing, declaring that ‘Nature is the work of the Devil’. This has led to the assumption that Blake was not interested in landscape and, although many of his compositions feature landscape settings and natural details, this aspect of his work is usually overlooked. However, landscape was an important part of Blake’s art and legacy, and most of his artistic followers are landscape painters. Samuel Palmer (1805–1881) is the most famous example, but there are many others, spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
During Blake’s lifetime, landscape painting became an important British genre. This was the age of Constable and Turner, witness to a revolution of taste. When the traditional systems of patronage and training broke down, artists became free to choose their own subjects and landscape was elevated to a new level. Painters, exhibitions and collections almost entirely devoted to landscape became an important part of the art scene. This display presents Blake in this context, exploring the role of landscape in his work and the relationship of Blake’s work to other landscape art.
This display has been devised by Hayley Flynn, AHRC-funded doctoral student, Tate Britain/University of Nottingham