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William Blake, 1757–1827, British

The Horse

Former Title(s):

"The Horse", from "William Hayley's Ballads"

ca. 1805
Tempera with pen and black ink on a copper engraving plate
Support (PTG): 4 3/16 x 2 1/2 inches (10.6 x 6.4 cm)

Verso: [Engraved with foliage, grass, etc., practice strokes]

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
child | fear | horse (animal) | literary theme | romanticism | trees | woman
Not on view

It was through John Flaxman that Blake secured the patronage of the popular poet William Hayley. Between 1800 and 1803 Blake lived in Felpham, Sussex, working on projects for Hayley. The relationship between the two poets was not an easy one. Although Hayley’s employment provided much-needed financial assistance, he encouraged Blake to put aside his more imaginative work, leading Blake to describe Hayley as “corporeal friend and spiritual enemy” (Bindman, 1977, p. 132).

In 1802 Blake produced fourteen engravings to illustrate an edition of Hayley’s “Ballads”. A few years later, after Blake had returned to London from Felpham, he made new plates for a small-format edition of the “Ballads”. On 25 April 1805 he wrote to Hayley: “The prints, five in number, I have engaged to finish by 28th May. They are to be as highly finished as I can do them.” In the same letter he mentioned, “Of these five I am making little high finished pictures, the size the engravings are to be, and I am hard at it to accomplish in time what I intend.” This tempera, which reproduces at the same size the illustration for “The Horse,” may be one of these “little high finished pictures.” The only other known candidate is a sepia drawing for “The Eagle” (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York). Blake’s tempera illustrates a mother calmly facing down a runaway horse who threatens her fearful child. Blake was particularly pleased with this design, and when he thought the print might be omitted from the “Ballads”, he wrote to Hayley to argue for its inclusion as “one of my best; I know it has cost me immense labour” (Butlin, 1981, no. 366).

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, p. 276, no. 73, pl. 73, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Blake made this small painting from one of his illustrations to William Hayley's BALLADS, FOUNDED ON ANECDOTES RELATING TO ANIMALS, published in 1805. Hayley was a minor poet and biographer now remembered chiefly as Blake's patron. His ballad "The Horse" tells of the courage of a mother who stands between her child and a runaway horse, which she tames by looking it fixedly in the eye.

Malcolm Warner

Warner, Malcolm and John Baskett. The Paul Mellon Bequest : treasures of a lifetime. New Haven : Yale Center for British Art, 2001, p. 20

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. 276, no. 73, pl. 73, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

David Bindman, Blake as an Artist, Phaidon, Oxford, 1977, p. 132, NJ18 B57 B52 1977 (YCBA)

Martin Butlin, Paintings and Drawings of William Blake, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1981, p. 312, no. 366, pl. 347, NJ18 B57 B874 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Christie's Sales Catalogue : Catalogue of fine English pictures and drawings : 27 October 1961, Christie's, London, October 27, 1961, p. 15, lot no. 43, Sales Catalogues (YCBA)

Henry Crabb Robinson, Lives of William Blake, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, p. 139, NJ18.B57 A12 2020a (YCBA)

Alexander Gilchrist, Life of William Blake, with selections from his poems and other writings , The Macmillan Company, London, 1880, pp. 224-5 (v.1), p. 216 (v.2), no. 74, PR4146 G55 1880 (YCBA) 2 volumes

Matthew Hargraves, William Blake and Paul Mellon : the life of the mind, Open Knowledge Foundation, New York, 2014, [ p. 8], fig. 7, V 2557 Printed from URL: http://openglam.org/2014/10/07/william-blake-and-paul-mellon-the-life-of-the-mind

Lucinda Hawksley, Fifty British Artists You Should Know, Prestel, Munich : New York, NY, 2011, p. 46, N6796 .H39 2011 (YCBA)

Geoffrey Keynes, Tempera paintings of William Blake, A critical catalogue , Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1951, p. 18, no. 9, NJ18 B57 K495 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 200 (v.1), no. 382, pl. 17, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

Archibald G. B. Russell, Engravings of William Blake, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912, p. 88, no. 20 (v.), NJ18 B57 R85 1912 (YCBA)

William Blake, Tate Publishing, London, p. 118, cat. 97, NJ18.B57 M97 2019 (LC) Oversize (YCBA)

Thomas Wright, Life of William Blake, Paul P. B. Minet, Chicheley House, 1929, pp. 9-10 (v.2), PR4146 W7 1972 (YCBA)

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