William Blake, 'The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth' ?1805
William Blake
The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth ?1805

Read about William Blake’s exhibition of 1809, drawing as a modern art practice, and the concept of the sublime. The issue also has articles on the Russian artists Naum Gabo and Liubov Popova, and on the British artist Richard Hamilton.


Christina Lodder

Naum Gabo’s arrival in Berlin in 1922, which initiated his lifetime emigration from the Soviet Union, has been interpreted as an explicitly anti-Soviet act. This view has led them to condemn his subsequent creative activities as right-wing and non-progressive. This essay contests such opinions, emphasising Gabo’s connections with the October Revolution, arguing that he did not initially intend to stay in the West, and examining the nature of his émigré activities in this light.

Christina Lodder

In 1923 the painter Liubov Popova began creating designs for fabric to be manufactured by the First State Textile Printing Works in Moscow. This paper looks at the development of her involvement with constructivism while also examining the relationship between her textile prints and the abstract language of her earlier paintings.

Fanny Singer

This article traces Richard Hamilton’s use of photography and digital technologies to subtly undermine verisimilitude in his print The annunciation 2005. Making numerous comparisons to Fra Angelico’s San Marco Annunciation, the work that inspired Hamilton’s print, the article aims to deconstruct the latter both technically and iconographically.

David Blayney Brown and Martin Myrone

This paper introduces the 1809 London exhibition that William Blake organised of his own works, exploring its high ambition and disastrous failure. It also sets the scene for the other three articles about Blake’s exhibition in this issue of Tate Papers, examining the London art world and the emerging exhibition and commercial culture in early nineteenth-century Britain.

Susan Matthews

This essay suggests that Blake’s 1809 exhibition was haunted by the memory of the Irish painter James Barry (1741–1806) and his concerns about the nation’s visual culture. In deciding to include The Penance of Jane Shore c.1793, Blake revisited the scandal associated with the writer Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) and her advocacy of women’s rights, resisting evangelical concerns about the body and sexual morality

Philippa Simpson

This article explores why William Blake’s solo exhibition of 1809 has been such an important source for understanding his attitude towards past art by locating the show within London’s rapidly expanding culture of Old Master displays. Blake’s exhibition is revealed as a carefully choreographed riposte to shifts in the consumption of art in the capital.

Konstantinos Stefanis

This paper considers Blake’s 1809 exhibition in the light of the nascent practice of retrospective exhibitions and compares it with the commemorative exhibition of Reynolds’s paintings organised by the British Institution in 1813.

Jo Applin

This article focuses on American artist Lee Bonteco’s drawing practice during the early 1960s, focusing in particular on Drawing 1961. Made with graphite, charcoal and soot, Bontecou’s works on paper are ambivalent statements about the world. They invoke distinct (and distinctive) worlds of their own, worlds that are out of step with the contemporary environment but also inescapably part of it.

Ed Krčma

Developed in relation to works by Tacita Dean and William Kentridge, this article explores the way in which the arrival of digital technology has impacted upon our conception of drawing, suggesting its alignment with older, ‘analogue’ technologies, particularly film.

Anna Lovatt

This article considers Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings as artworks poised on the cusp of the ‘post-medium condition’ of installation art. While the wall drawings are site-specific, they eschew the spectacular, immersive effects of subsequent multi-media installation art. They also adhere to the practice of drawing at the precise moment when conventional, medium-based categories were under attack. It is argued that LeWitt’s wall drawings refuted the modernist conception of ‘the medium’ as an autonomous entity, foregrounding instead its relational and communicative potential.

Stephanie Straine

This article considers one work on paper by Vija Celmins in the ARTIST ROOMS collection: Untitled (Desert–Galaxy) 1974. In a focused analysis of this dual-image drawing, the artist’s strategies of spatial typologies, mimicry, finish, and rejection of linearity are considered in relation to Celmins’s contribution to the development of an alternative, photographically mediated form of drawing practice.

Michael White

When Kurt Schwitters began making collages in 1918, the initial term he used to describe them was Merzzeichnungen (Merz drawings). This article considers the place of drawing in the development of Schwitters’s Merz practice and argues that the close connection he made between drawings and collages was not merely because of their common status as works on paper. By analogising collage and drawing, Schwitters gave new priority to the latter but not as immediate access to the artist’s thought. Rather, drawing was a medium that could meld together elements of painting, printmaking and writing, disrupting conventional artistic categories and demanding a greater role for the viewer in creative interpretation.

Sarah Monks

This paper reflects upon the implications of J.M.W. Turner’s close and varied attention to the depiction of sea-water. In particular, Turner’s ability to suggest the liquid depths and gravitational force of the sea – most particularly in Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth – is read as a means by which alternative forms of sublime experience might be conveyed, ones in which drowning rather than ascendancy are at stake.

Charlotte Purkis

Music’s capacity to expose the contradictions which emerged within late nineteenth-century understandings of the sublime is explored in relation to the aesthetics of decadence and of emergent modernism.

Eugénie Shinkle

This paper examines the notion of the contemporary technological sublime, and asks what sublime affect means in the context of contemporary digital technologies such as video games. It argues that the contemporary technological sublime finds expression in an affective combination of elevated emotion and banality – a combination in which the subject also encounters the limits of the self.

Luke White

Focusing on Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living 1991 which contains a preserved shark, this paper explores the longer cultural resonance of sharks as exemplars of the natural sublime. The paper argues that the shark, in Hirst’s work and elsewhere, is a figure which intertwines an aesthetic of terrible nature with the capitalist sublime

Research publications

Mark Rawlinson

This paper considers the historical coincidence of modernism and the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. In particular, it contextualises allusions to representations of Antarctic journeys in the writings of Henry James and T.S. Eliot, and reflects on the way these bear on the fate of the sublime in the twentieth century.