Yale Center for British Art
William Blake, 1757–1827, British

The Poems of Thomas Gray, Design 45, "The Progress of Poesy."
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:
text | arrows | wings | literary theme | religious and mythological subject | dancing | flutes | fiddle | violin | chariot | bow | trees | tree | musical instruments | women | man | girls | light | flames | star | branches | sun | dead | angel | fire
Currently On View:
Not on view
Curatorial Comment:
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.
Exhibition History:
An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05)

The Human Form Divine - William Blake from the Paul Mellon Collection (Yale Center for British Art, 1997-04-02 - 1997-07-06)

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)

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

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