William Blake

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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William Blake

by Thomas Phillips
oil on canvas, 1807
36 1/4 in. x 28 3/8 in. (921 mm x 720 mm)
Purchased, 1866
Primary Collection
NPG 212

On display in Room 17 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • William Blake (1757-1827), Visionary poet and painter. Sitter in 10 portraits, Artist or producer associated with 5 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Thomas Phillips (1770-1845), Portrait painter. Artist or producer associated with 218 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Often misunderstood or scorned for his radical politics, Blake's work was only recognised by close friends like Fuseli and Flaxman and his disciple, the young Samuel Palmer. Phillips is said to have caught Blake's 'rapt poetic expression' by luring him to talk of his friendship with the Archangel Gabriel.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 56
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 36
  • Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 26
  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 45
  • Parris, Matthew, Heroes and Villains: Scarfe at the National Portrait Gallery, 2003 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 30 September 2003 to 4 April 2004), p. 44
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 58
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 60
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 124 Read entry

    William Blake, visionary poet, painter and engraver, now frequently thought of as a Romantic, was a man who claimed to have grown up ‘conversing with angels’ and lived according to his own mystical and moral beliefs. Unable to conform to contemporary social expectations, he was fortunate to be supported in his radical exploits by a close group of friends including the artists Henry Fuseli and John Flaxman. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Blake could not afford to travel to Rome. Instead he derived his inspiration from the extremes of poverty and glory he witnessed around him in London. The outcome was not only simple, spiritual and enigmatic but also unique in its design. In his illuminated ‘prophetic book’, Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794), he developed the technique of relief etching, uniting both word and image on a single plate.

    This portrait by Thomas Phillips (1770–1845) depicts Blake in a moment of visionary reverie. The artist recalled that he managed to capture Blake’s rapt expression by inviting him to talk of his friendship with the Archangel Gabriel, whom Blake described as descending through the ceiling.

  • Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 49
  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 39

Events of 1807back to top

Current affairs

Act is passed abolishing the British slave trade after vigorous campaigning by hundreds of thousands of people led by Thomas Clarkson and championed in parliament by reformer William Wilberforce.
Resignation of 'Ministry of all the Talents'. Whig politician William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, Duke of Portland, succeeds as Prime Minister.

Art and science

Thomas Hope publishes Household Furniture and Interior Decoration; influential in promoting Greek and especially Egyptian models as the epitome of fashionable style.


French invasion of Spain and Portugal.
Britain occupies Copenhagen and captures the Danish fleet.
Napoleon begins to wage an economic battle against Britain, recognising the impossibility of victory at sea because of Britain's superior naval power. He aims to close the entire European coastline to British trade.

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Morton Paley

04 November 2020, 18:53

"Pasted on the stretcher is an abstract from The Saturday Review, 14 November 1853 reviewing Gilchrist's Life of William Blake." Not possible -- Gilchrist's bio first published 1863.