George Richmond

The Creation of Light


On loan

Buk-Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul, South Korea): Pudong

George Richmond 1809–1896
Tempera, gold and silver on mahogany
Support: 480 × 417 mm
frame: 602 × 539 × 66 mm
Purchased 1986

Display caption

Richmond used the same paint medium as Blake did for his temperas, and a similar range of pigments. He made greater use of dark, intense, mixed greens than Blake. He also built up transparent layers to a considerable thickness, probably through many applications. The green hill in the foreground is heightened with gold leaf.

This painting was submitted to the Royal Academy exhibition of 1826 but was rejected. This was probably because of the subject matter. Even if inspired by Michelangelo, depictions of the ‘Supreme Being’, as here, were frowned upon.

Gallery label, September 2004

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

T04164 The Creation of Light 1826

Tempera with some gold and silver leaf on panel 480 × 417 (18 7/8 × 16 3/8)
Inscribed ‘George Richmond. pinxt 1826’ b.r. and in a later hand on a label removed from the back of the panel and separately preserved: ‘“The Creation of Light.” Geo: Richmond. R.A. | painted in Tempora [sic] 1826 when only | 17 years of age. | Rejected same year by the Royal Academy | Painted under the influence of William Blake’
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Prov: Sold by the artist's executors, Christie's 1 May 1897 (80) 26 gns bt his son Walter Coleridge Richmond (1852–1931); by descent until anon. sale, Sotheby's 12 March 1986 (223, repr. in col.) £48,000 bt Spink and Son Ltd from whom purchased by Tate Gallery
Exh: William Blake, National Gallery of British Art (Tate Gallery), Oct.–Dec. 1913 (138, lent by Walter Richmond), Whitworth Institute, Manchester, Feb.–March 1914 (179) and City of Nottingham Art Gallery, April 1914 (158); Samuel Palmer and his Circle, Arts Council tour, Royal Albert Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter, Oct.–Nov. 1956, City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Nov.–Dec. 1956, Wakefield Art Gallery, Dec. 1956–Jan. 1957, University of Newcastle, Hatton Gallery, Jan.–Feb. 1957 (79), Arts Council Gallery, London, Feb.–March 1957 (119), Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, March–April 1957, Southampton Art Gallery, April–May 1957, Arts Council Gallery, Cambridge, May–June 1957, Aldeburgh Festival Gallery, June 1957 (79)
Lit: Lawrence Binyon, The Followers of William Blake, 1925, p.19, pl.14; Geoffrey Grigson, Samuel Palmer: The Visionary Years, 1947, p.44; Raymond Lister, George Richmond, 1981, p.122, pl.1; Tate Gallery Report 1986–88, 1988, p.54, repr. (col.); Morton D. Paley ‘The Art of the Ancients’, Huntington Library Quarterly, vol.52, no.1, Winter 1989, pp.115–16, repr. in col. pl.XII (reprinted in William Blake and his Circle: Papers Delivered at a Huntington Symposium, San Marino 1989, same pagination). Also repr: Octagon (Spink and Son Ltd), vol.24, no.2, June 1987, p.14 (col.)

The subject of T04614 is taken from the description of the fourth day of Creation in Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 14–19, which includes the words ‘And God made two great lights’ (verse 16). The same subject is described in John Milton's poem Paradise Lost (published 1667), Book 7, lines 339–86. As will be explained below, Richmond's source was probably the Bible rather than Milton. The picture's title as given on the label now removed from the back of the picture is not accurate because the creation of light, that moment before the sun and the moon illuminated day and night, is described in verse 3 of Genesis 1; nor, strictly speaking, is the title the artist's. However, since the picture remained within the artist's family until acquired by the Tate, it is assumed that the information on this label must derive from George Richmond. Because of this and because the picture has been known as ‘The Creation of Light’ since it was first exhibited in 1913, this title has been retained.

Richmond's ‘The Creation of Light’ was a product of the most formative part of his career in the mid-1820s. During this period he became first a student in the Royal Academy Schools and then one of the circle of young artists who gradually gathered around William Blake (1757–1827) and who later became known as ‘The Ancients’. As the label once on the back of T04164 suggests, Blake's influence on Richmond at this time was considerable but in the case of ‘The Creation of Light’ the influence of Samuel Palmer (1805–81), one of ‘The Ancients’, was equally important and, in many ways, even more direct.

Richmond started as a student in the Royal Academy in January 1825 at about which time he must have commenced working on his first RA exhibit, the small tempera ‘Abel the Shepherd’ (N05858). Richmond's introduction to Blake is imprecisely recorded as having taken place when he was ‘a lad of sixteen’, in other words, sometime after his sixteenth birthday in March 1825. The meeting took place at the St John's Wood home of the architect Charles Heathcote Tatham (A.M.W. Stirling, The Richmond Papers, 1926, p.24). By this time, Richmond had apparently ‘heard much of Blake, greatly admired all he had heard, and all he had seen of his designs’ (G.E. Bentley Jr, Blake Records, Oxford 1969, p.293). This would almost certainly have come about through his friendship with Palmer, whom Richmond seems to have known quite well by October 1823 (R. Lister, ed., The Letters of Samuel Palmer, Oxford 1974, I, pp.6–7). Palmer had met Blake for the first time in October 1824, having been introduced to him by John Linnell.

The earliest firm date for a meeting between Richmond and Blake was the occasion when Richmond took ‘Abel’, his first completed picture, along to Blake and ‘submitted’ it to him (Bentley 1969, p.293). A surviving page from a now lost sketchbook which belonged to either Palmer or Richmond has two slight drawings by Blake, one of which he made to demonstrate a desirable correction to Abel's arm. An annotation by Palmer at the top of the sheet (now in the Fitzwilliam Museum), so precise that it must have been made immediately after the meeting, reads ‘Drawn by Mr Blake. April 4th 1825’ (Martin Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake, New Haven and London 1981, no.802.1, pl.1044). From the pentimenti on the finished picture, it would appear that Richmond followed Blake's suggestion. It was very much a last-minute alteration, for the two sending-in days for the Academy exhibition in 1825 were 4 and 5 April (advertisement in the Morning Post, 9 Feb. 1825), a fact which betrays as much about Richmond's anxiety about the eventual public success of his picture as it does about his desire to have Blake's approval of it.

Richmond was a devout Christian. His faith would have undoubtedly reinforced the bonds which he forged firstly with the God-fearing Palmer and then with Blake -even though the latter's view of the Deity was far from orthodox: ‘[Jesus] is the only God... And so am I and so are you’ (Bentley 1969, p.540). Furthermore, early on in Richmond's acquaintanceship with both these artists, they were deeply involved in illustrating subjects from the Bible. Palmer was working on his small tempera ‘The Rest on the Flight’ (Ashmolean Museum), which he ‘laid by ... in much distress, anxiety and fear’ in July 1824 and took up at the end of 1824 or the beginning of 1825, from which time also dated a ‘Joseph's Dream’ (A.H. Palmer, The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer, 1892, p.13); and Blake was engaged on his twenty-one engravings for the Book of Job which finally appeared in March 1826 and possibly even on his project for an illuminated manuscript copy of Genesis (Butlin 1981, no.828, pls. 974–5, 1084–92). Richmond's preoccupations certainly echoed those of his new friends: a small pencil, pen and ink drawing of Moses, squared for transfer and later dated by Richmond ‘about 1823’, is stylistically close enough to Palmer's work to date from very early on in their friendship (Sotheby's 24 March 1977, lot 27, repr.), followed by ‘Abel’ and then ‘The Creation of Light’.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that for both Richmond and Palmer, biblical subject matter had assumed an important place in their art before they ever met Blake. In some ways, too their choice had proved to be a particularly exacting one. There are, however, some obvious points of contact between Blake's work and Richmond's which have to be considered. Palmer emerges as a pivotal figure in this process, for a likely source for this knowledge would seem to have been John Linnell, owner of a collection of Blake's work which Richmond could have had access to through Palmer. By 1821 Linnell certainly owned Blake's watercolour ‘The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve’ of 1805–9 (Butlin 1981, no.664) and this may perhaps have played a part in Richmond's decision to paint his own ‘Abel’. Linnell also owned a number of Blake's illuminated books by the same date, among them ‘Europe’ (Copy K, G.E. Bentley Jr, Blake Books, Oxford 1977, pp.105, 160). The frontispiece to this, an image of a God-like figure creating the universe, even if not strictly biblical is in its subject and grandeur of conception an obvious model for Richmond's own ‘Creation of Light’ It is, in fact, an image with which Richmond could have been familiar from some time before he came to know Blake. Richmond's first use of tempera in ‘Abel’ coincided more-or-less exactly with Palmer's use of the same unusual medium, combined with oil paint, in his ‘Rest on the Flight into Egypt’. Palmer's method would seem to have been inspired by a knowledge of Blake's own unique tempera or ‘fresco’ paintings, particularly those dating from the early and mid-1820s, and even perhaps executed with Blake's own recipe (A.H. Palmer, The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer, 1892, p.51). Importantly, then, many of the central features in Richmond's art, usually attributed to Blake's influence, actually predate Richmond's meeting Blake.

An accurate source for gauging the extent of Palmer's influence on Richmond is Palmer's sketchbook of 1824 (British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, 1964-11-4-1; a facsimile with an Introduction and Commentary by Martin Butlin was published by the Trianon Press, Clairvaux, France in 1962; see also, R. Lister, Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Samuel Palmer, Cambridge 1988, pp.34–47, no.43). This was begun on 15 July 1824, certainly seems to have still been in use in the spring of 1825 and was still to hand round about 9 December 1825. This book therefore dates from quite early on in Palmer's friendship with Richmond, embracing that moment in April 1825 when Richmond (with Palmer, perhaps) went to Blake for advice about ‘Abel’, as well as the final months of the year when Richmond would have been contemplating his exhibition piece for 1826. The fact, already referred to, that Palmer annotated a sketchbook page drawn on by Blake for the benefit of Richmond makes it seem unlikely that Palmer would not have shown and discussed the contents of this 1824 book with the young artist.

There is, in fact, quite a lot of evidence to suggest that this was indeed the case. Richmond's ‘Abel’ picks up not only on the pastoral theme of shepherds and their flocks which Palmer depicts on several pages of his sketchbook, but also on the motif of a figure reclining at the base of a tree (e.g. pp.9, 10, 27, 38, 39, 43, 162). Both these themes do, of course, look back to Blake's wood-engravings for Thornton's Pastorals of Virgil of 1821 which so enraptured Palmer and to which he refers on page 114. More conclusive proof of Richmond's direct debt to Palmer is found in his drawing ‘Elijah and the Angel’, dated by the artist many years later ‘1824-or-5’ (T02102). In this the composition, stylised treatment of trees and vegetation and penmanship all find precedents in the 1824 sketchbook (e.g. p.27). One feels that even Palmer's sketches of wings (p.139) may possibly have been made to help Richmond with the design of the angel's wings in ‘Elijah’. Significantly, perhaps, Richmond later owned this 1824 sketchbook.

Of most interest in relation to Richmond's ‘Creation of Light’ are two sketches on pages 58 and 61 of the sketchbook. On page 58, Palmer sketched out a scheme for a large polyptych. This consists of a large central compartment illustrating ‘The Lamb shall bid them to living fountains of water &c’ flanked by two smaller compartments on either side: two subjects from the Old Testament on the left and two from the New Testament on the right. Each group is separated by niches containing statues of the crucified and resurrected Christ and saints. The flanking compartments are supported by predellas which include pastoral scenes evoking the sense of ‘hymns sung among the hills of Paradise at eventide’ (memoranda Nov. 1822 to 9 June 1824: Palmer 1892, p.13).

The compartment on the far left of the polyptych is entitled ‘He made great lights’ after the opening words of Genesis 1:16, the words which are of course the source of Richmond's image in T04164. Palmer depicts a robed figure moving over the curved surface of the earth, his arms outstretched towards a sun and a moon. He developed this tiny sketch on a larger scale on page 61 immediately after another Genesis subject, the Creation of Man. The figure of God, an aureole around his head and his face partly concealed by his right arm, is accompanied by angels. He is borne aloft on clouds above a void filled with stars: the sun bursts into flame at the touch of his right hand while the moon glows by his left hand. Because these sketches are quite near the front of the sketchbook they would seem to date from the summer of 1824. Given Palmer's known closeness to Richmond at this time and the extraordinary rareness in art of depictions of the creation of light, it would appear most likely that Richmond's choice of subject in T04164 was influenced by Palmer's own exploration of the same subject. However, at this point it is worth noting that while Palmer's ‘grand scheme’ came to nothing for obvious reasons, even as he was thinking about it he retained a sense of what was ‘unpaintable’ in art - albeit in this case the look on the face of the thrice-denied Christ and the crucified Christ (Sketchbook, p.53).

The rarity of depictions of God creating light makes it even more remarkable that just as Palmer was thinking about the subject so too was another artist working in London. This was John Martin (1789–1854). As early as December 1823 he had been commissioned by the publisher Septimus Prowitt to produce a series of mezzotints, to be published in parts, illustrating John Milton's Paradise Lost. The mezzotint illustrating line 339 of Book 7 of the poem, ‘Let there be light’, was published in Part II of the work in April 1825 (Examiner, 13 April 1825, p.364) but the plate is dated ‘1824’ within the image (Michael J. Campbell, John Martin: Visionary Printmaker, exh. cat., York City Art Gallery 1992, pp.38, 40, 57, repr.). Probably dating from the same year, and certainly finished by 8 March 1825 when it had to be sent in (Literary Gazette, 15 Jan. 1825, p.46), Martin's large oil painting of the same subject (42 × 68 in; Thomas Balston, John Martin 1789–1854: His Life and Works, 1947, pp.80–1; whereabouts unknown) was exhibited at the Society of British Artists (no.226) between 28 March and 9 July 1825. Here it was entitled ‘The Creation’ and accompanied not by lines from Milton but from his source, Genesis 1:2, 16. An impression of the print was also exhibited at the same time (no.567). Martin and Palmer could not have been aware of their simultaneous interest in the same subject. They did not know each other and their mode of recording their ideas remained intensely private: Palmer in a sketchbook shown only to his very close friends and Martin who ‘wholly composed and designed his subjects on the plates themselves’ (Literary Gazette, 2 July 1825, p.431).

The relationship between Martin's mezzotint and T04614 was first touched on by Grigson (1947, p.44) but the wider importance of both the print and the painting to Richmond and his art has remained unexplored. As with Palmer's rough sketches, it is a reasonable assumption that Richmond must have seen Martin's works. Indeed, they were so accessible that a sight of them was unavoidable for any interested artist. And the public display of Martin's picture opened up such a debate about the propriety of artists even treating the subject of the Creation that this must have had a direct bearing on the Academy's rejection of T04614 which is referred to on the label which was once on the back of it. Although this inscription is not in Richmond's hand, it can be regarded as an accurate account of the picture's early history.

In choosing to paint the subject of ‘The Creation of Light’ Richmond was very clearly defying the orthodox Academic view - and thus the conventional critical view - that the ‘Supreme Being’ of the Old Testament (as opposed to the Saviour of the New Testament) could not and should not be pictured. It was felt by some, indeed, that even to attempt it was tantamount to profanity. Sir Joshua Reynolds, in his Eighth Discourse of 1778, had set out the modern view of the matter when he stated that ‘this subject the Roman Catholick painters have taken the liberty to represent, however indecent the attempt, and however obvious the impossibility of any approach to an adequate representation’ (Robert R. Wark, ed., Sir Joshua Reynolds: Discourses on Art, New Haven and London 1975, p.150). The more one looks at the evidence - or, rather, lack of evidence - the clearer it becomes that within the Academy Reynolds's line was held with remarkable consistency down succeeding years; and that inevitably it helped breed an attitude among Academicians that must have played a decisive role in their rejection of Richmond's ‘Creation’ in 1826.

The two most influential Professors of Painting in the Academy in later years - James Barry (1741–1806) and Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) - reiterated Reynolds's thoughts and Richmond could have read their words in their published lectures. Fuseli, in particular, fairly clearly circumscribed the limits of any history painter's ambitions when he refers to Michelangelo's and Raphael's striving to form an image of the ‘Ancient of Days’ or ‘He that existed before time’ but ominously adds that ‘after these two great names it were profanation to name the attempts of their successors’ (R.N. Wornum, ed., Lectures on Painting by the Royal Academicians: Barry, Opie, Fuseli, 1848; Fuseli, Lecture IV, p.443).

For example, up until this moment, apart from ‘The Creation of Heaven and Earth’ exhibited by L.J. Cosse (active 1784–1837) in 1798 (294, whereabouts unknown), this subject had never been shown at the Academy, despite Reynolds's injunction to his students to depict familiar incidents and characters from the Bible (Discourse IV, Wark 1975, p.578). The list of subjects which the Academicians set their students for the biennial gold medal painting competitions between 1769 and 1825 certainly did not include anything which called for the depiction of God the Father or, for that matter, Christ the Saviour (J.E. Hodgson and F.A. Eaton, The Royal Academy and its Members, 1905, p.384). Finally, none of the most highly regarded history painters of the time Benjamin West, J.M.W. Turner come to mind - tackled such subject matter. When another history painter, P.J. de Loutherbourg, illustrated the Creation for the frontispiece to Thomas Macklin's edition of the Holy Bible of 1800 he painted a thoroughly earthbound Moses-like figure grasping a stone tablet in one hand and pointing upwards towards a conventionally picturesque burst of sunlight coming from behind a cloud (Rüdiger Joppien, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg R.A., 1740–1812, exh. cat., Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood 1973, no.70, repr.).

Martin's ‘Creation’ painting is now lost. However, the mezzotint after it, as well as contemporaneous descriptions give a clear idea both of the impact the picture must have made on visitors to the Society of British Artists and also of the similarities and differences between Richmond's treatment of the subject and Martin's. The Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review (3 Dec. 1825, p.782) noted that

In the middle of the picture, the Deity is represented in the garb and figure of a man; before him is the sun, behind him the stars and the moon. His right hand is held out, and the sun has burst into radiance before it; whilst the moon and stars, though yet uneffulgent, are just beginning to be tipped with the reflection.

Martin's colouring and handling of chiaroscuro prompted particular comment. Robert Hunt in the Examiner singled out ‘the intensity of light upon and about the shadowed God, thrown out as it is by the deep darkness of encompassing waters and cloud’ and ‘the sun and stars twinkling in the azure expanse, and lightning flashing as in honour of the present God’. Hunt drew attention particularly to ‘the floating unearthly form, and the broad central light in which God is here represented, present a proportion of vivid blue greater by far than we ever recollect in any other master’ (13 April 1825, p.212). The Globe and Traveller described the blue of the sky as ‘bright’ and ‘sulphureous’ (sic) and the sea below as ‘dark and still, like a slab of black marble’. Some critics were well disposed towards Martin's conception. Robert Hunt wrote of its ‘grandeur’ and its ‘power in affecting the imagination’ (Examiner, 13 April 1825, p.212). The Literary Chronicle thought it was ‘splendid’, ‘poetical’ with ‘much sublimity’ (2 April 1825, p.221), while the Literary Gazette noted that ‘the design ... is grand and striking’.

Otherwise Martin's effort was censured privately and publicly. The history painter Benjamin Robert Haydon wrote in his diary for 8 March, having seen ‘The Creation’ in the exhibition room just after Martin delivered it, that it was a

total failure from ... ignorance of the principles of the associations and habits of the mind ... to put a human being with a hand extended, and a large shining circular flat body not much larger than the thing shaped like a human hand and four fingers, and call that body to be the Sun, makes one laugh ... It is the grossest of all gross ideas to make the power & essence of the Creator depend on size

(The Diary of Benjamin Robert Haydon, ed. W.B. Pope, Cambridge, Mass. 1963, III, p.10)

Another history painter, James Northcote, a peppery old Academician and pupil of Reynolds, was happy to go along with what he termed the ‘charge of profaneness’ which the newspaper John Bull levelled at Martin's painting (Conversations of James Northcote R.A. with James Ward on Art and Artists, ed. Ernest Fletcher, 1901, p.248). In fact, John Bull's comments were rather more strongly worded than even Northcote could suggest:

When this painter undertakes to pourtray [sic] the Almighty after his own fancy, and dares to exhibit his vile profanation to a religious and moral nation,he deserves a much severer reproof - it is impossible to look at the horrid attempt without disgust, and we do think that the good sense of the conductors of this exhibition would have been most worthily exercised in keeping such a display from the public eye.

If this was the most extreme reaction to Martin's picture it was nonetheless a resonant echo of Reynolds's words. The fact that Martin's work attracted such widespread hostility, a hostility that was kept alive long after the painting ceased to be on display by the existence of the print, makes it very probable that when the Academicians came to look at Richmond's ‘Creation of Light’ after it was sent in by 4 April 1826, they had no hesitation in rejecting it. In the circumstances, it seems rather extraordinary that Richmond decided to submit T 04614 to the Royal Academy exhibition. However, the desire to emulate and outdo the Old Masters as well as his contemporaries would have been stimulated from the moment he started working in the Academy Schools in January 1825. Whatever Reynolds and Fuseli might have said, a backward glance to Michelangelo's and Raphael's [Giulio Romano's] treatments of ‘He made great lights’ in the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican loggia would have come quite naturally to Richmond because that is what his Academic training encouraged him to do. Likewise, Richmond would have seen Palmer's and Martin's interpretations of the subject as ideas which could be bettered, not least because his art was underpinned by a sincere Christian faith. In the end, Richmond's decision to send ‘The Creation of Light’ to the Academy in April 1826 can be seen as a remarkable affirmation of the seventeen year old artist's belief that he could overcome traditional and newly reinvigorated objections to artists even contemplating the subject.

Richmond's daring could be attributed in part to the example of the outsider Blake. Similarly, certain features of ‘The Creation of Light’ do owe a very obvious debt to Blake's work of this period: the naked, muscular figure of God, and the manner of depicting billowing clouds, flames shooting up from the sun and the effect of waves on the sea all have prototypes in, for example, the tempera ‘Satan Smiting Job’ of c.1826 (N03340), the ‘Job’ prints and the watercolours for Dante's ‘Divine Comedy’ which Blake was working on by October 1824.

Because of this and the strong whiff of hero-worship which permeates accounts of Richmond's friendship with Blake, it is all too easy to view the young artist's creative personality as almost completely dominated by Blake's. As might already have been deduced, this underestimates Richmond's individuality. For example, a certain obstinacy can be seen in his willingness early on in his friendship to ‘boldly argue and disagree [with Blake], as though they were equals in years and wisdom’. He admired Blake's single-mindedness (G.E. Bentley Jr, Blake Records, Oxford 1969, p.293) and possessed it himself, as can be seen in his stated antipathy to the ‘equivocal’ and the ‘neither Hot nor Cold’. These last sentiments come from some comments which Richmond wrote down in about 1825 - so they date from a period which is directly relevant to his work on ‘The Creation of Light’. The opening sentence of these comments gives some indication of his frame of mind as he approached this challenging subject: ‘do that which the inspiration of yr own mind dictates - For tis very certain you will do better by pursuing & painting your own conceptions (bad as they may be) than by endeavouring to imitate those of another’ (R. Lister, George Richmond: A Critical Biography, 1981, p.124).

None of this, of course, would have been an obstacle to Richmond's seeking Blake's advice and assistance with ‘The Creation of Light’, just as he had done before with ‘Abel’. One particular anecdote may perhaps refer to just such an occasion:

Richmond once suffered from the mood which attacks all imaginative souls. There came a space when all inspiration deserted him, his soul was devoid of aspiration, his hand forgot its cunning. The days of usefulness and failure extended themselves gloomily throughout a fortnight; and in despair at last he went to Blake and besought advice, explaining how the world had grown dark and the power of endeavour had gone from him ...

(Stirling 1926, pp.25–6; a variation is found in Bentley 1969, p.293)

Blake and his wife admitted to Richmond that ‘the visions forsake us’ too and recommended prayer as a cure for the problem.

Judging by the relatively minor suggestion Blake made regarding ‘Abel’, Richmond's problem with that work seems hardly likely to have plunged him into such despair. But since ‘The Creation of Light’ was the most important and challenging work executed by Richmond before Blake's death in August 1827 it is quite conceivable that this anecdote in fact refers to his difficulties in starting this work. They were difficulties which were heightened particularly by his knowledge that the subject was deemed to be unpaintable. Central to this was the manner in which the figure of God was to be handled and Richmond's chief concern would have been to avoid that dependence on Michelangelo's and Raphael's [Giulio Romano's] example which was so evident in both Palmer's and Martin's pictures. Some evidence to support the view that Blake provided the crucial solution to Richmond's dilemma can perhaps be found on another single sketchbook page, inscribed by Richmond ‘drawn by Mr Blake’. This inscription is on the recto of the sheet, but a slight pencil drawing by Blake on the verso does show a standing male figure with its head and arms in the same pose that Richmond adopted for his God (Butlin 1981, no.802.2, pl.1046).

Richmond's ‘Creation’ has been described by Morton Paley as the artist's ‘most daring attempt to emulate Blake’. It is a more complex work than this suggests because whilst it does indeed do this, it more properly appears to show Blake's active participation in helping his young admirer to emulate Old and Modern Masters alike.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

You might like