Eight unique works by William Blake bought by Tate

  • 12 January 2010

Tate has bought eight powerful hand-coloured etchings by William Blake (1757-1827) with the assistance of The Art Fund (£141,000), Tate Members (£200,000), Tate Patrons and the generosity of the public.

The works were inherited by Blake’s widow Catherine, who later gave them to a gentleman called Frederick Tatham. Their ownership is then unknown, until they were discovered hidden between the pages of a rail timetable among a box of secondhand books bought at a local book sale in the late 1970s. The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, offered them to Tate as a single group.

The group of etchings were created following the production of an extraordinary series of illuminated books printed by Blake with the help of his wife in the 1790s. Blake went on to reproduce images from these books as a set of separate relief etchings, each finished in pen and ink and hand-coloured by layering tempera on watercolour, to create unique and independent works of art. They demonstrate the wide range of Blake’s practice, from some of the most visceral Gothic images of the late 18th century, to beautiful and mysterious scenes from the artist’s visionary imagination.

The works will go on public display at Tate Britain in July 2010, and will travel to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art, Moscow in November 2011 for the exhibition William Blake and British Visionary Art.

Stephen Deuchar, Director of The Art Fund, said: "These powerful etchings reveal the immense technical skill of William Blake, as well as his legendary imaginative range, and the story behind their discovery makes this acquisition all the more exciting. The Art Fund is pleased to have helped secure them for Tate, where they will join many other works by the artist that The Art Fund has helped save over the years."