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William Blake, 1757–1827, British

The Poems of Thomas Gray, Design 109, "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard."

Additional Title(s):

Verso: The Poems of Thomas Gray, Design 110, "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard."

Part Of:

Collective Title: The Poems of Thomas Gray

between 1797 and 1798
Watercolor with pen and black ink and graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper with inlaid letterpress page
Sheet: 16 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches (41.9 x 32.4 cm)

Inscribed in black ink upper right: "5"; in graphite center: "x"; on verso in black ink upper left: "6"; in graphite center: "x"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
basket | boy | child | clouds | digging | dirt | farming | father | food | girl | gloves | grain | harvest | hat | literary theme | man | men | rain | shovel | sickle | sky | text | trees | wheat straw | women
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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In about 1795 the London bookseller Richard Edwards commissioned William Blake to provide illustrations for a deluxe edition of Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts”. A standard edition of the poem was taken apart and the pages mounted on large sheets of paper on which Blake drew and colored his designs. Blake created 537 illustrations on 269 sheets (now in the British Museum, London), only a fraction of which were actually published. With the model of Blake’s watercolors for “Night Thoughts” in mind, Blake’s friend John Flaxman commissioned a set of watercolor illustrations of the poems of Thomas Gray as a birthday gift for his wife, Ann, known as Nancy. Again the pages of a standard edition of the poems were mounted on large sheets, perhaps left over from the earlier project, on which Blake created his watercolor illustrations. Unlike his illustrations to “Night Thoughts”, these 116 watercolors on fifty-eight sheets (all now in the Paul Mellon Collection, YCBA) were never intended for publication. On each of the pages of text Blake marked with a graphite “X” the lines that he intended to illustrate. The three pages displayed in the 2007 YCBA “Legacy Exhibition” convey something of the range and variety of Blake’s responses to Gray’s poetry. While Gray’s most celebrated poem, “Elegy in a Country Churchyard,” gave little scope to the more extravagant side of the artist’s visual imagination, Blake did create a sequence of images that enhance the quiet poignancy of the poet's meditation. The compact figure of the reaper, with its coiled energy, forcefully evokes the former vitality of those “rude forefathers” who lie buried in the churchyard.

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 275-76, no. 72, pl. 72, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Colin Cross, Blake revealed, William Blake : Discovery of a Masterwork , Observer, vol. 12, November 21, 1971, pp. 19-23, V 1245 Detached from Observer colour magazine

Arnold Fawcus, Unknown Watercolours by William Blake, Illustrated London News, vol. 259, No. 6881, December 25, 1971, pp. 45-46, 49-51, Available online: Illus London News Hist. Archiv

William Blake, Tate Publishing, London, p. 110, cat. 85, NJ18.B57 M97 2019 (LC) Oversize (YCBA)

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