Tate Britain

Ancients and Moderns: Legacies of William Blake

Upper level Clore Gallery
Samuel Palmer, ‘The Bright Cloud’ c.1833–4
Samuel Palmer, The Bright Cloud c.1833–4. Tate

Discover the influence of William Blake on British artists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

In the 1820s a group of young artists were brought together by their admiration for the work of William Blake (1757–1827). They gathered around the village of Shoreham in Kent, where artist Samuel Palmer owned a house. The group adopted a lifestyle that looked back to what they saw as a simpler and better age. Their paintings, drawings and prints evoked a timeless world and dreamlike visions of nature.

The Ancients looked to Blake as their spiritual leader and ‘Interpreter’. Because they were conservative and conformist in politics and religion while Blake was radical, they responded better to the simplicity of Blake’s wood engravings of the ancient Roman poet Virgil’s Pastorals than to his more complex imagery of a corrupted world whose beauty was deceptive. However, Blake inspired their belief that visual art must be rooted in poetic imagination.

The Blake revival in the 1920s coincided with a rediscovery of the Ancients. New publications introduced his work and that of Palmer to a generation of artists who became known as the Neo-Romantics. Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, John Piper, John Craxton and Keith Vaughan were inspired by Blake’s mystical visions. His idea that one could ‘see a World in a Grain of Sand’ influenced their transformation of the natural world into poetic images.

Curated by David Blaney Brown and Emma Chambers


Tate Britain
London SW1P 4RG
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