attributed to John Linnell

The Man Who Taught Blake Painting in his Dreams (after William Blake)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Attributed to John Linnell 1792–1882
Graphite on paper
Support: 260 × 206 mm
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940

Display caption

This is a replica of one of Blake's drawings of figures that appeared to him in visions.
It has also been proposed that Blake's image might be a 'visionary self-portrait', showing the artist himself at the moment of the inspiration. The strange form
on the forehead may represent flames
of inspiration. This idea of inspiration, particularly divine inspiration, is central
to the Romantic imagination that Herbert Read saw as the ancestor of Surrealism.
It also anticipates the Surrealists' interest
in dream imagery.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

N05186 The Man who taught Blake Painting in his Dreams

N 05186 / B 755
Approx. 230×220 (9 1/8×8 5/8) on paper 260×206 (10 1/4×8 1/8)
Inscribed by John Linnell ‘The Portrait of a Man who instructed Mr. Blake in Painting & c. in his Dreams’ b.l. and ‘Imagination of a Man who Mr Blake has recd Instruction in Painting & 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 66) £54.12.0 bt Miss Carthew
EXHIBITED Paris and Vienna 1937 (14); Port Sunlight 1950(29)

LITERATURE Gilchrist 1863, 1, p.254; Rossetti 1863, p.244 list 2 no.39, and 1880, p.262 list 2 no.64; Keynes Drawings 1927, under no.48; Butlin 1969, p.12; Butlin in Paley and Phillips 1973, pp.296–9, pl.73; Keynes Portraiture 1977, pp.24–5, 131–3, pl.22c; Klonsky 1977, p.122, repr.; Butlin 1981, p.527 no.755, pl.983

Of the two versions of this head in the Tate Gallery one is listed by Rossetti as ‘Portrait of a Man who instructed Mr Blake in Painting, in his Dreams’, which corresponds more or less to the first title written on this drawing. The other version, N05187, is almost certainly a counterproof of the work formerly in the Keynes collection while this drawing is a replica of N05187. Except for the fact that the probable original is in the reverse direction to the other two, the three versions are very close to each other, even to the placing of the individual hairs and lines of shading. The two drawings in the Tate Gallery do not coincide precisely enough to be the result of direct tracing but rather suggest the use of an optical aid to copying such as Cornelius Varley's Graphic Telescope (the portrait drawings done with the Graphic Telescope by both Cornelius and John Varley in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum show the same deadness of line and shading as the replicas of Blake's Visionary Heads: for a brief account of the Telescope see John Gage, exh. cat., A Decade of English Naturalism 1810–1820, Norwich and Victoria and Albert Museum 1969, pp.16, 40nn. 18, 19, and Butlin 1973, loc. cit.). The two drawings in the Tate Gallery, with their varied inscriptions, were probably try-outs for a projected engraving for one of the unpublished parts of John Varley's Trealise on Zodiacal Physiognomy.

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


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