William Blake

Catherine Blake. Verso: A Man’s Head and Other Drawings


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
William Blake 1757–1827
Graphite on paper. Verso: ink on paper
Support: 286 × 221 mm
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940

Display caption

This intimate and apparently casually-drawn portrait shows Catherine Blake (née Boucher, 1762–1831). William and Catherine were married from 1782 until Blake’s death in 1827. Catherine played a huge part in Blake’s creative and commercial work. She helped him with printing and colouring his works, even finishing some of his drawings. Blake’s extraordinary vision depended on his partnership with Catherine.

Gallery label, September 2019

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Catalogue entry

N05188 Catherine Blake c.1805 (recto) A Man's Head and other Drawings (verso)

N 05188 / B 683
Recto: pencil; Verso: pen; on paper 286×221 (11 1/4×18 11/16)
Inscribed on recto; possibly by John Varley, ‘Catherine Blake’ b.r. and ‘Mrs. Blake drawn by Blake’ b.c.; for verso see below
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940
PROVENANCE ? John Varley;...; Mrs Alexander Gilchrist by 1863; H.H. Gilchrist, sold Sotheby's 24 June 1903 (31) £6.10.0. bt Edwards; Miss Alice G.E.Carthew by 1913
EXHIBITED BFAC 1876 (110); Examples of the English Pre-Raphaelite School of Painters...together with a Collection of the Works of William Blake, Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, December 1892 (165 or 170); Tate Gallery (112), Manchester (171), Nottingham (133) and Edinburgh (123) 1913–14; BFAC 1927 (65); Paris and Vienna 1937 (16); Wartime Acquisitions 2nd Exhibition CEMA tour 1944–5 (3); Tate Gallery 1947 (B2); Edinburgh 1969 (12); Cambridge 1971 (67); Tate Gallery 1978 (149, recto repr.)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.250 list 2 no.105, and 1880, p.268 list 2 no.133; Keynes Bibliography 1921, p.485; Keynes Drawings, 11, 1956, no.10, recto repr.; G.E.Bentley Jr, ‘The Date of Blake's Pickering Manuscript or The Way of a Poet with Paper’, Studies in Bibliography, XIX, 1966, pp.237–9; Keynes Drawings 1970, no.37, recto repr.; Bentley Blake Books 1977, p.574 no.6; Geoffrey Keynes, The Complete Portrailure of William and Catherine Blake, 1979, pp.28, 151–2, recto repr. pl. iv; Butlin 1981, p.491 no.683, pls.900 and 901

The recto bears a drawing of Blake's wife Catherine. She was born at Battersea on 25 April 1762. Her full name was Catherine Sophia Boucher, also spelt Butcher. They were married on 18 August 1782. According to J.T. Smith and Allan Cunningham she helped Blake in printing and colouring his illuminated books, and after Blake's death, according to Gilchrist, she even finished some of his drawings, ‘rather against Mr. Linnell's Judgment’; William Rossetti held her responsible for the colouring of Blake's illustrations to Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (Butlin 1981, no.829, colour pl.976 and pls.1093–1120). After Blake's death she went to live first with John Linnell as his housekeeper; in September 1828 she moved to perform the same office for Frederick Tatham, who thus came to inherit much of the contents of Blake's studio. She died at 17 Upper Charlton Street, Fitzroy Square on 18 October 1831. Three independent works attributed to her hand are catalogued in Butlin 1981, nos.C1, 2 and 3, repr. pls.1191, 348 in colour, and 1192 respectively.

This drawing was made on the back of p.9 of the quarto edition of William Hayley's Ballads, published in 1802 with illustrations by Blake. Bentley has demonstrated that Blake used spare sheets from the Ballads from 1805 onwards. On the printed side of the sheet there are slight sketches of a man's head in profile, an eye, a lip, a wing and some doodles, possibly not by Blake; also two simple mathematical sums and the numbers ‘13’ and ‘50’.

The Blake exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1892 contained two so-called portrait drawings of Mrs Blake, both lent by H.H. Gilchrist, the first being described as being in pencil. The other exhibit has been tentatively identified with the drawing, also in pencil, of a full-face head of a young woman now in McGill University Library, Montreal (Butlin no.686, pl.902).

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


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