William Blake

The Agony in the Garden


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Not on display

William Blake 1757–1827
Tempera on iron
Support: 270 × 380 mm
Presented by the executors of W. Graham Robertson through the Art Fund 1949

Display caption

This illustrates lines from St Luke's Gospel, although the inclusion of the sleeping disciples also refers to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Christ is shown praying in the Garden of Gethsemene just before his betrayal by Judas and his arrest:

And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

One of Blake's patrons described him as 'a most fervent admirer of the Bible, and intimately acquainted with its beauties.'

Gallery label, October 2001

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Catalogue entry

N05894 The Agony in the Garden c. 1799–1800

N 05894 / B 425
Tempera on iron 270×380 (10 5/8×15), 3 ( 1/8) cut off diagonally at each corner
Signed ‘WB inv’ in monogram, damaged, b.r.
Presented by the Executors of W. Graham Robertson through the National Art-Collections Fund 1949
PROVENANCE Thomas Butts; Thomas Butts jun.; Capt. F.J. Butts, offered Sotheby's 24 June 1903 (14) £28 bt in Dimsdale; his widow, sold April 1906 through Carfax to W. Graham Robertson, offered Christie's 22 July 1949 (30, repr.) £420 bt his executors
EXHIBITED Carfax 1904 (11); Carfax 1906 (3); Arts Council 1951 (30, pl.9); Tate Gallery 1978 (139, repr.)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.227 no.153, and 1880, p.240 no.177; Preston 1952, p.59, no.12 pl. 12; Keynes Bible 1957, pp. xiii, 38 no.134 repr. and colour pl. vii; Blunt 1959, p.67; Kremen 1972, pp.154, 253 n.128, pl.10; Bindman 1977, p.124; Paley 1978, p.55; Butlin 1981, pp.332–3 no.425, colour pl.509

This is an illustration to Luke, xxii, 41–4. Blake seems to suggest the detail of Christ's sweat ‘as it were red drops of blood falling down to the ground’.

The picture was restored in 1917 (repr. before and after, Burlington Magazine, XXXII, 1918, p.17) and again in 1949. The original paint is missing in many places. William Rossetti lists this work, under the title ‘Christ in the Garden, sustained by an Angel’, as an ‘Oil picture (?) on copper’. Blake was, of course, averse to the use of oil paint and seems never to have used it.

Although most of Blake's tempera paintings on metal seem to be on copper recent analysis by Brian Gilmore of the New Armouries at the Tower of London has shown that the support in this case is iron, almost certainly coated with a form of tin. On the painted side, underlying Blake's usual white ground, there is a layer of red paint, probably red lead. This suggests that Blake used a piece of metal already used in some completely unrelated artefact.

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

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