William Blake

David Delivered out of Many Waters


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William Blake 1757–1827
Ink and watercolour on paper
Frame: 668 × 565 × 27 mm, 3.6 kg
support: 415 × 348 mm
Presented by George Thomas Saul 1878

Display caption

This work shows how Blake responded visually to textual sources. It is an illustration to Psalm 18, in which David (at the bottom of the image with his arms stretched wide) calls out to God for salvation from his enemies. Christ appears above, riding upon seven cherubim (angels), not one as in the text. Blake’s gentle, linear style, formal composition and free interpretation of a written source made him attractive to many modern artists. Paul Nash saw Blake as representing a British imaginative tradition.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

N02230 David Delivered out of Many Waters: ‘He Rode upon the Cherubim’ c.1805

N 02230 / B 462
Pen and watercolour 415×348 (16 3/4×13 13/16)
Signed ‘WB’ b.l.
Presented to the National Gallery by George Thomas Saul 1878; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1909
PROVENANCE Thomas Butts; Thomas Butts jun., sold Foster's 29 June 1853 (121) £1.2.0 bought Money; G.T. Saul by 1876
EXHIBITED BFAC 1876 (97); Tate Gallery (12), Manchester (12), Nottingham (9) and Edinburgh (11) 1913–14; British Painting Hamburg, Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen 1949–50 (6); Port Sunlight 1950 (4); English Water-Colours Norwich 1955 (28)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.255 list 3 no.1, and 1880, p.237 no.153 and p.275 list 3 no.2; Graham Robertson in Gilchrist 1907, p.491 no.3; Digby 1957, p.43, pl.42; Keynes Bible 1957, p.22 no.75 repr.; Blunt 1959, p.71; Damon 1965, p.98; Raine 1968, 11, pp.21–3, pl.130; Taylor in Blake Studies, 1, 1968–9, pp.78–83, repr. p.81; Grant in Blake Studies, 1, 1968–9, pp.200–1; Butlin in Blake Studies, 1, 1968–9, p.212; Wark Ten British Pictures 1971, p.88, pl.68; Tolley in Blake Newsletter, VI, 1972–3, pp.29–30; Bindman 1977, pp.141–2, pl.113; Butlin 1981, p.347 no.462, pl.552; Raine 1982, p.26 and at pl.26, repr.; Essick in Blake, XVI, 1982–3, p.44; Warner 1984, pp.95–6

This is an illustration to Psalms, xviii, 4, 10, 16. However, Blake multiplies the single cherub of the text as given in the Authorised Version; it is interesting that when the watercolour was sold at Foster's in 1853 it was entitled ‘He rode upon the Cherubim’ in the plural, perhaps reflecting the lost title in the copperplate hand (see headnote to this section). Blake shows cherubim of four distinct ages, that in the middle being sometimes identified as David as a young man. They are, as Michael Tolley has pointed out, the Seven Eyes of God, who, acting in concert with Christ, represent the ideal form of redemption. At the bottom of the composition David appears again as an older man, being delivered from the waters, bound in the attitude of the Crucified and looking up towards the figure of Christ with similarly outstretched arms; by this Blake makes plain the psalmist's foreshadowing of Man's salvation through Christ. The ropes by which David are bound are not in the main text of the King James translation of the Bible but are the alternative (and more correct) translation from the original Hebrew given in the margin, which reads ‘The cords of death’ instead of the Authorised Version's ‘sorrows’ (verse 4).

William Rossetti's first mention of this watercolour, in his 1863 ‘List No.3. Works of Unascertained Method’ (presumably works he had not managed to see), was under the title used in the 1853 Foster's sale catalogue. In 1880, by which time he must have seen the work, he inserted it in his main ‘List No.1’ as ‘David delivered out of Many Waters. - Psalm xviii. 16’, while retaining his previous listing in List 3.

For a copy of this work in the Tate Gallery see the next item.

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

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