William Blake

Frontispiece to ‘Visions of the Daughters of Albion’


Not on display

William Blake 1757–1827
Relief etching, ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 170 × 120 mm
frame: 403 × 312 × 20 mm
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the Art Fund 1919

Display caption

Blake''s invention of a method of printing in relief from etched plates, first used in 1788, gave him control over the style, production and publishing of his own books. By 1794 he had begun applying coloured pigments to his printing plates and then, as a further development, printing some of the designs in his books as separate coloured images. Visions of the Daughters of Albion was an illuminated book with eight designs which Blake first advertised in 1793. This frontispiece is not part of any copy of the book but was separately printed in colours.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

N03373 Frontispiece to Visions of the Daughters of Albion 1793/c.1795

N 03373 / B 264
Colour-printed relief etching finished in ink and watercolour 170×120 (6 3/4×4 3/4) on paper 355×267 (14×10 1/2)
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the National Art-Collections Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the National Art-Collections Fund 1919
PROVENANCE John Linnell, sold Christie's 15 March 1918 (174) £52.10.0 bt Martin for presentation to the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED Tate Gallery (93), Manchester (80), Nottingham (60) and Edinburgh (47) 1913–14; Paris and Vienna (4); English Romantic Art Arts Council tour 1947 (8)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.202 no.12, and 1880, p.208 no.14, as ‘Design for the Frontispiece to the “Daughters of Albion”’; Damon 1924, pp.330, 332; Wright 1929, 11, p.51, repr. 1, pl. 14; Erdman in Warburg Journal, XV, 1952, p.246; Keynes and Wolf 1953, pp.26–8, 89; Digby 1957, p.75, pl.67; Blunt 1959, p.53; Hagstrum 1964, p.96; Beer 1968, pp.40–2; Erdman 1969, pp.233–4; Duerksen in Blake Newsletter, VI, 1972–3, p.72; Mellor 1974, pp.62–3, 142; Jackson, Murray and Duerkson in Blake Newsletter, VIII, 1974–5, pp.91–6; Bentley Blake Books 1977, pp.469, 478; Bindman 1977, pp.73–4, pl.56; Beer in Phillips 1978, pp.211–15; Paley 1978, p.177; Morton D. Paley, ‘“Wonderful Originals”- Blake and Ancient Sculpture’, Essick and Pearce 1978, p.178; Butlin 1981, p.146 no.264, colour pl.337

The title-page of Visions of the Daughters of Albion is dated 1793. The earliest copies, of 1793–4, were printed in monochrome and finished in watercolour. The only known colour-printed copy probably dates from 1795; this is also the approximate date of the two separate designs in the Tate Gallery. N05898 corresponds to page 5 of the Large Book of Designs in the British Museum which probably dates from a year earlier (Butlin 1981, no.262 5, pl.362).

Visions of the Daughters of Albion is an allegory of the sinfulness of subjecting love to the bonds of orthodox morality. This full-page design is usually taken as showing Oothoon, ‘the soft soul of America’, bound back to back to Bromion, who has raped her; Theotormon, her lover, persuaded by Bromion's moralistic arguments that Oothoon is now impure, crouches in despair on the right. The setting is Bromion's cave. Duerksen, while accepting the identification of Theotormon on the right, suggests less convincingly that the other figures are not so specific, being two prisoners in Bromion's cave representing terror and meekness, the two principles by which Bromion maintains his tyrannical power. As well as an attack on orthodox morality Erdman also sees Visions of the Daughters of Albion as a condemnation of slavery and the temporising of Abolitionists such as Wilberforce.

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

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