after William Blake

The Man Who Taught Blake Painting in his Dreams (counterproof)

after c.1819–20

Image released under

License this image

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
After William Blake 1757–1827
Graphite on paper
Support: 296 × 235 mm
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940

Display caption

The title of this image suggests that it may be a type of visionary self-portrait. The marks on the forehead are reminiscent of phrenological divisions, and seem to correspond to areas associated with observation and intuition, among others.

This picture is thought to belong to the series of visionary heads Blake produced for John Varley (see Head of the Ghost of a Flea and the showcase, both nearby). James Deville, who made a cast of Blake’s head, also studied Varley, declaring that the astrologer ‘believed nearly all he heard, and all he read’.

Gallery label, March 2011

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

N05187 The Man who Taught Blake Painting in his Dreams

N 05187 / B 754
Approx. 240×230 (9 3/8×9) on paper 296×235 (11 5/8×9 1/4)
Inscribed by John Linnell ‘Imagination of A man who Mr Blake has recd instruct[ion] & c from’ b.r.
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940
PROVENANCE John Linnell, sold Christie's 15 March 1918 (in 164 with nos.63, 65 and 67) £54.12.0 bt Miss Carthew
LITERATURE Keynes Drawings 1927, no.48 repr.; Butlin 1969, p.12; Keynes Drawings 1970, no.63 repr.; Butlin in Paley and Phillips 1973, pp.296–9, pl.72; Keynes Portraiture 1977, pp.24–5, 131–3, pl.22b; Butlin 1981, p.527 no.754, pl.982

The paper has been trimmed along the edges, cutting off the last letters of ‘instruction’; the last four words of the inscription are squeezed in above the rest.

This is apparently a counterproof of Blake's original, uninscribed drawing of this subject of c.1819–20 formerly in the collection of Sir Geoffrey Keynes and now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Butlin 1981, no.753, pl.981). This was included by William Rossetti in his 1880 lists (p.263 list 2 no.81) as ‘Lois’ meaning ‘Lais’, the courtesan of Corinth who is in fact the subject of another of the Visionary Heads (Butlin no.712, pl.924); this mistake was followed until the 1950s. When the Keynes drawing was exhibited at the Tate Gallery in 1913 (71) Archibald G.B. Russell said of it that ‘The drawing appears to be a duplicate taken by means of blackened paper with a hard pencil from the original sketch, and afterward touched up with pencil’, in other words a counterproof, and indeed it seems to be in reverse to both of the examples in the Tate Gallery. However, it appears to this compiler that the Keynes drawing is the most sensitive of the three versions and that it must therefore be Blake's original. (It should perhaps be stressed that, although in reproduction these three drawings often look to be of different sizes, this is because of the different sizes of the sheets of paper on which they have been executed. In fact the heads on each drawing measure 14.4 (5 11/16) from the top of the hair to the point of the chin.)

Keynes (1977) saw this drawing as a visionary self-portrait, partly on account of its resemblance to the full-face highly finished drawing in pencil and grey wash attributed to John Linnell and now in the collection of Robert N. Essick (Keynes 1977, pl.35). As a portrayal of Blake's inspiration this could certainly be so. Keynes also interprets the strange form on the figure's forehead as the Menorah, the symbol of spiritual enlightenment derived from the seven-branched candlestick of the Jews, but in fact it appears to have eight branches and may rather be a more general allusion to the flames of inspiration.

You might like

In the shop