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Creator:
William Blake, 1757–1827, British
Title:

The Poems of Thomas Gray, Design 45, "The Progress of Poesy."

Additional Title(s):

Verso: The Poems of Thomas Gray, Design 46, "The Progress of Poesy"

Part Of:

Collective Title: The Poems of Thomas Gray

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

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:
B1992.8.11(23)
Classification:
Drawings & Watercolors
Collection:
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
angel | arrows | bow | branches | chariot | dancing | dead | fiddle | fire | flames | flutes | girls | light | literary theme | man | musical instruments | religious and mythological subject | star | sun | text | tree | trees | violin | wings | women
Access:
View by request in the Study Room
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:3634
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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. The image of Cythera’s day, from Gray’s ode celebrating the poet’s calling, is light and exuberant. Cythera, one of the Ionian Islands, was the center of a cult of Aphrodite. A group of levitating young devotees of the goddess of love dance and play instruments beneath a six-pointed star.

Gallery label for Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)
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 here convey something of the range and variety of Blake's responses to Gray's poetry. The image of Cythera's day, from Gray's ode celebrating the poet's calling, is light and exuberant. Cythera, one of the Ionian Islands, was the center of a cult of Aphrodite. A group of levitating young devotees of the goddess of love dance and play instruments beneath a six-pointed star.

"The Bard" was a seminal text of Romantic nationalism. Based on the traditional account of the killing of the Celtic minstrel-poets by Edward I after his conquest of Wales, the poem is the lament of the lone surviving bard and his curse on Edward and his descendants. Blake himself identified with the bard, writing in the Introduction to the Songs of Experience: "Hear the voice of the Bard!" For the opening of Gray's poem, Blake produced one of the most powerful designs in the set. Departing from his standard practice, he chose to illustrate a line later in the poem. He marked a double "X" in the upper left of the letterpress page, which corresponds to the similarly marked line, "And weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line," several pages further on. The figure of the bard plucks the bloody strands from which he will weave Edward's fate. The strands at the same time suggest the harp with which the bard traditionally accompanied his songs.

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.

Scott Wilcox

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, cat. no. 70, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

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, p. 275-76, no. 70, pl. 70, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

William Blake, William Blake's water-colour designs for the poems of Thomas Gray, London, 1971, p. 54, NJ18 .B57 A15 G73 K49 (LC)+ Oversize YCBA

Martin Butlin, Paintings and Drawings of William Blake, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1981, p. 263, no. 335 46, NJ18 B57 B874 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Martin Butlin, William Blake, Tate Publishing, London, 1978, p. 73, no. 129, NJ18 .B57 B87 (LC)+ 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

Matthew Hargraves, William Blake and Paul Mellon : the life of the mind, Open Knowledge Foundation, New York, 2014, [ pp. 8-9 ], fig. 8, V 2557 Printed from URL: http://openglam.org/2014/10/07/william-blake-and-paul-mellon-the-life-of-the-mind

Patrick Noon, The human form divine : William Blake from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997, p. 63, NJ18 .B57 N66 (LC) YCBA

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, no. 70, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

Irene Tayler, Blake's illustrations to the poems of Gray, Princeton, 1971, pp. 86-87, NJ18 .B57 A15 G73 T69 (LC) YCBA

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

Frank A. Vaughan, Again to the life of eternity : William Blake's illustrations to the poems of Thomas Gray, Selinsgrove and London, 1996, pp. 69-70, NJ18 .B57 A15 G73 V38 1996 (LC)+ Oversize YCBA

William Blake : Visionary, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, p. 33, fig. 12, NJ18.B57 A12 2020 OVERSIZE (YCBA)


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