William Blake

Sketch for ‘Tiriel Supporting the Dying Myratana’. Verso: Sketch for ‘Tiriel Supporting the Dying Myratana’


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William Blake 1757–1827
Graphite on paper. Verso: graphite on paper
Support: 291 × 450 mm
Presented by Mrs John Richmond 1922

Display caption

This is a sketch for the first illustration to Blake’s poem Tiriel. It illustrates the lines ‘the aged man rais’d up his right hand to the heavens, His left supported Myratana shrinking in pangs of death’. Tiriel is the blind, mad and tyrannical King of the West. He cursed his sons when they rebelled against him. Then, after the death of his wife Myratana, ‘darkling o’er the mountains’ he ‘sought his pathless way’.
This brief sketch shows how Blake began his compositions.

Gallery label, May 2003

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Catalogue entry

A00040 Sketches for ‘Tiriel Supporting the Dying Myratana’ c. 1789 (recto and verso)

A 00040 / B 200
Pencil 291 × 450 (11 1/2 × 17 3/4)
Inscribed on recto by Frederick Tatham ‘These few fine Lines by William Blake vouched by Fredk Tatham’ b.r.
Presented by Mrs John Richmond 1922
Mrs Blake; Frederick Tatham; his brother-in-law George Richmond, sold Christie's 29 April 1897 (in 147, with 22 other works; see no.2) £2.10.0 bt Dr Richard Sisley; his daughter Mrs John Richmond
Michael Tolley, review of 1971 edition of this catalogue, Blake Newsletter, VI, 1972–3, p.29; Butlin 1981, no.200, pls.227 and 228

The drawings on both the recto and the verso are almost certainly connected with ‘Tiriel Supporting the Dying Myratana and Cursing his Sons’, one of the twelve pen and wash drawings illustrating Blake's poem Tiriel (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection; Butlin 1981, no.198 1, pl.223). The aged Tiriel, with his dying wife Myratana, upbraids and curses their three sons who have driven him into exile (Keynes Writings 1957, p.89; Bentley Tiriel 1967, pp.60–61). The architectural background of the finished drawing is absent, and the gestures of the figures are somewhat different, but the confrontation of the two groups is very close in feeling. The drawing on the recto also has elements of ‘Tiriel Upheld on the Shoulders of Ijim’ (Victoria and Albert Museum; Butlin no.198 7; repr. Bentley 1967, pl.5).

The twelve finished pen and wash drawings illustrate, more or less closely, the manuscript known as Tiriel from the name of its chief protagonist (British Museum, Dept of MS. EG2876; repr. in full Bentley 1967, pp.61–89). They measure approximately 7 1/4 × 10 3/4 in, slightly larger than and in the opposite direction to the pages of the manuscript which are 8 1/4 × 6 3/16 in. They were probably designed, had the work been published, to have been engraved in the conventional way. This supports a date before Blake's fusion of text and illustration in one technical process in the illuminated books which began in There is no Natural Religion and All Religions are One of c.1788, and, in its fully developed form, in Songs of Innocence of 1789. Most authorities, including Anthony Blunt (1959, p.11) and Bentley, have dated both manuscript and drawings to c.1789; David Bindman (1977, pp.44–7, and exh. cat. 1982–3, pp.46, 78) suggests that they may have been begun at a rather earlier date, c.1786.

This work was formerly inventoried as no.3694 xi.

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

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