William Blake

A Vision: The Inspiration of the Poet (Elisha in the Chamber on the Wall)


Not on display

William Blake 1757–1827
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Image: 244 × 211 mm
frame: 525 × 450 × 30 mm
Purchased with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of Edwin C. Cohen and Echoing Green 1989

Display caption

Blake called himself a visionary, claiming he actually perceived things that are not of this world. This is the extreme end of the imagination and not far removed from the Surrealists’ fascination with dreams which, according to Freud, offered access to the unconscious. The title of this work was suggested by a Blake expert named W Graham Robertson:'A Vision'. Probably representing the Poet, in the innermost shrine of the imagination, writing from angelic diction. This reflects Blake’s belief that his work was dictated by angels.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T05716 A Vision: The Inspiration of the Poet c.1819–20 (?)

Watercolour over pencil 171×178 (6 3/4×7) on wove paper 244×210 (9 9/16×8 1/4)
Inscribed in ink by Frederick Tatham, ‘William Blake./I suppose it to be a Vision/Frederick Tatham’ and ‘Indeed I remember a/conversation with Mrs. Blake/about it’ b.r.
Watermarked ‘RUSE & TURNERS’ Acquired through the generosity of Mr Edwin Cohen and The General Atlantic Partners Foundation 1989
PROVENANCE Mrs Blake; Frederick Tatham;...; Quaritch, offered catalogue November 1882 (in 346 with 44 others) £36 and catalogue 350 10 August 1883 (in 13843) £36, sold 30 June 1886 to W. Graham Robertson, sold Christie's 22 July 1949 (62) £115.10.0 Kerrison Preston; Sotheby's 21 March 1974 (17, repr.) £2,800 bt in A. Chambers for the executors of Kerrison Preston; his son David C. Preston by whom sold through Christie's to the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED Bournemouth, Southampton and Brighton 1949 (47); Port Sunlight 1950 (18); Hamburg and Frankfurt 1975 (66, repr.); Tate Gallery 1978 (286, repr.)
LITERATURE Robertson in Gilchrist 1907, p.494 no.4; Preston 1952, pp.180–2 no.72, pl.58; Rosenblum 1967, pp.189–91, pl.212; Butlin 1981, pp.527–8 no.756, pl.984

The drawing shows a small pedimented shrine in a large bare room seen in steep perspective; an angel stands dictating to a seated figure writing, over whose head hangs a lamp looking much like the Holy Ghost in old master paintings of the Trinity. The title was suggested by W. Graham Robertson who once owned the drawing and who wrote on a label formerly on the back of the frame and now separately preserved, ‘A Vision. Probably representing the Poet, in the/innermost shrine of the imagination,/writing from angelic dictation’.

Although different in character from the other Visionary Heads this drawing probably dated from about the same time. The paper is watermarked ‘RUSE & TURNERS’ vertically along the right hand edge of the sheet. In other cases when Blake used the same make of paper the watermark includes the dates 1810, 1812 and 1815 (see G. E. Bentley Jr, Blake Books, Oxford 1977, p.72). The second part of Tatham's inscription was clearly added as an afterthought; the original ink inscription has been slightly strengthened with pencil by a different hand at a later date.

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

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