William Blake

Bathsheba at the Bath


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William Blake 1757–1827
Tempera on canvas
Support: 263 × 376 mm
frame: 370 × 479 × 50 mm
Presented by the Art Fund 1914

Display caption

This is one of fifty small biblical pictures commissioned from Blake by his patron, Thomas Butts, in 1799. It illustrates a verse from the second Book of Samuel in the Old Testament:

And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that King David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the palace: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.

This woman was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. David, shown in the upper right corner, was to father her child, and arrange the death of her husband.

Gallery label, April 2001

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Catalogue entry

N03007 Bathsheba at the Bath c. 1799–1800

N 03007 / B 390
Tempera on canvas, previously relined and now mounted on board 263×376 (10 3/8×14 13/16), cut down from approx. 265×380 (10 1/2×15)
Signed ‘WB inv’ in monogram b.r.
Presented by the National Art-Collections Fund 1914
PROVENANCE Thomas Butts; Thomas Butts, jun.; Capt. F.J. Butts, sold Sotheby's 24 June 1903 (8) £80 bt Knowles; Carfax 1904; F.P. Osmaston by 1906, sold 1914 to the National Art-Collections Fund
EXHIBITED Carfax 1904 (8); Carfax 1906 (8); Tate Gallery 1913 (13); Paris, Antwerp, Zurich and Tate Gallery 1947 (4); Arts Council 1951 (14, pl.4); Hamburg and Frankfurt 1975 (99, colour pl.6); Tate Gallery 1978 (135, repr.)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.225 no.125, and 1880, p.237 no.150; Fry in Burlington Magazine, IV, 1904, p.206, repr. p.210; N.A.-C.F. Report for 1914, 1915, p.37, repr.; Keynes Bible 1957, p.18 no.60 repr.; Blunt 1959, pp.65–6, pl. 34a; Damon 1965, pp.38–9; John E. Grant, ‘Two Flowers in the Garden of Experience’, Rosenfeld 1969, p.489 n. 36; Bindman 1977, pp.120, 126–7; Klonsky 1977, p.70, repr.; Paley 1978, p.55; Butlin 1981, p.321 no.390, colour pl. 498; Baine 1986, p.161

This is an illustration to II Samuel xi, 2. King David observes the naked Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, from the roof of his palace. The two children, one male, one female, were added by Blake, not being mentioned in the text, though Bathsheba did eventually bear a son to David after he had arranged the death of her husband. The imagery is particularly sensuous and suggests the influence of Parmigianino or Correggio, whose work would have been known to Blake through engravings if not through actual paintings.

This picture was restored by W.G. Littlejohn in 1914 and again at the Tate Gallery in 1957 (a detail is repr. before and after restoration in Tate Gallery Annual Report 1957–8, 1958, between pp.18 and 19).

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

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