after William Blake

Plate 3 of ‘Urizen’: Oh! Flames of Furious Desires’

Not on display

After William Blake 1757–1827
Part of
Watercolour on paper
Support: 60 × 98 mm
frame: 290 × 283 × 20 mm
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940

Catalogue entry

N05190 Plate 3 of Urizen: ‘Oh! Flames of Furious Desires’

N 05190 /-
Watercolour 60×99 (2 3/8×3 5/8) on paper 213×206 (8 3/8×8 1/8)

Inscribed, not by Blake, ‘Oh! Flames of furious desires’ below design Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940
PROVENANCE ?Carfax and Co. 1904; Miss Carthew
EXHIBITED ?Carfax 1904 (15); ?Carfax 1906 (79b); Wartime Acquisitions, 2nd Exhibition, CEMA tour 1944–5 (4); Port Sunlight 1950 (14); Edinburgh 1969 (52)
LITERATURE Piloo Nanavutty, ‘A Title-Page in Blake's illustrated Genesis Manuscript’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, x, 1947, p.114; Beer 1969, p.79: Mitchell 1978, p.145

Although this was included in the first edition of this catalogue (1957, p.38 no.10) it was doubted in the second (1971, p.33 no.13). It is in fact a copy of the design in the second set of A Small Book of Designs of 1796 (Butlin 1981, no.261 4, pl.353). It is on different, thicker paper than A03373, A03374, and N03896 and seems to be entirely executed in watercolour, including what should be the printed outlines of the design. Nor can its history be traced earlier than 1904, if that far.

The original design occurs at the top of plate 3 of Urizen (repr. Erdman Illuminated Blake 1974, p.185) and it is included in both copies of A Small Book of Designs, that already mentioned and the first issue of 1794 (Butlin no.260 9, pl.314). The version from the second, dismembered Small Book of Designs (Keynes Collection, Fitzwillam Museum, Cambridge) has been trimmed and lacks the usual title in Blake's hand. It is however inscribed on the back, not by Blake, ‘Oh! Flames of Furious Desires’; the supposed lost title is presumably the origin of that inscribed on the Tate's copy.

The Keynes copy of this design was acquired by W. Graham Robertson in 1904 (Preston 1952, pp.253–4 no.136) and would have been acknowledged as belonging to him had he lent it to the Carfax exhibitions of that year and 1906. The work exhibited by Carfax is therefore presumably the Tate's copy, unless it was yet another copy such as that sold at Sotheby's on 17 December 1970 (14 as by ‘Blake’ and therefore presumably thought not to be by him) bt C. Fry.

The design does not represent any particular passage in Urizen though the motif of fire recurs frequently in association with Los and Urizen, particularly the former. Damon suggests that it shows Los in the flames of inspiration (1924, p.355), the ‘flames of fierce desire’ evoked by Blake in his address ‘To the Public’ at the beginning of Jerusalem (Keynes Writings 1957, p.621). Keynes and Wolf hesitantly suggest Urizen as an alternative to Los (1953, p.70). Piloo Nanavutty's identification of the figure as Orc is less convincing; Orc, the red light of revolution in Europe, also of 1794, has only a minor, passive rôle in Urizen.

There is what seems to be a preliminary sketch in reverse, known as ‘Pestilence’, in the Rosenwald collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington (Butlin no.230, pl.272).

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

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