William Blake is known today as a truly wonderful poet, artist and printmaker. However, in 1809 when Blake put up his own solo art exhibition of his work, it went on to receive terribly negative reviews from the media of the day. The small 16-picture show was held above Blake’s brother’s hosiery shop in Soho, central London.
A curator by the name of Martin Myrone said of the experience:
“The 1809 exhibition was Blake’s most significant attempt to present himself as a public artist. But he was damned as an idiot, as a madman, a fool.”
This was highlighted by a newspaper review from shortly after the art show by Robert Hunt of The Examiner:
“The poor man fancies himself a great master and has painted a few wretched pictures, some of which are unintelligible allegory, others an attempt at sober character by caricature representation and the whole blotted and blurred and very badly drawn. These he calls an Exhibition of which he has published a Catalogue, or rather a farrago of nonsense, unintelligibleness and egregious vanity, the wild effusions of a distempered brain.”
William Blake didn’t take kindly to such bitter criticism and increasingly withdrew into himself. His disgust at the state of British Art at the beginning of the 19th Century grew further.
A key figure of the romantic movement, in both the poetry and art, Blake died in 1827. Now 200 years after that one-off attempt to gain recognition for his art work, the Tate Britain gallery in London has recreated the solo exhibition. This time it’s hoped and expected many thousands more people will attend and admire the exhibition of one of England’s greatest cultural figures.