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The current exhibition at the National Archives – With Love: Letters of love, loss and longing –  is as delightful as it is eclectic. One of the main exhibits is a letter written from Spain in 1623 by Sir Endymion Porter (1587 – 1649) to his beloved wife Olivia. He was accompanying the Prince of Wales, later Charles I, on the young royal’s bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful secret mission to procure a Spanish wife. The Porters’ happy marriage was not untroubled by mutual jealousy. To allay his wife’s fears, in this document, the royal sidekick writes “I kiss thy sweet mouth a thousand times” and “in thee I am rich and without thee I am nothing but misery”. This was, after all, the age of Shakespeare.

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This exhibit had me pondering. Porter’s name was familiar to me but I couldn’t quite place it. It niggled. Then, less than a week later, I was loafing around Tate Britain and it all came together: his portrait by William Dobson. Of course!

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Endymion Porter by William Dobson. Tate Britain.

This picture was painted during the Civil War. Porter, an unwavering though not uncritical friend of the king, was by this time in his mid-50s. Here his blotchy face shows a life well-lived. The portrait below, by Daniel Mytens (who also ‘did’ the king), portrays him about 15 years younger.

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Endymion Porter by Daniel Mytens. National Portrait Gallery, London.

And this one – with and by Anthony Van Dyck – falls between the two.

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Endymion Porter and Anthony Van Dyck by Van Dyck. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Van Dyck also did this family group portrait of the Porters.

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Sir Endymion Porter, his wife and three sons by Anthony Van Dyck. National Trust.

All of these pictures, I feel, show a happy-go-lucky individual whose main concern was the good things in life. He was a royal favourite of both James I and Charles I, who dabbled in diplomacy and commerce, not always successfully. Like both monarchs – especially the latter – he was an aesthete, a connoisseur with a particular love for paintings. In 1649 he returned from exile, dying only a matter of months after the king and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields, appropriately the final resting place also of Dobson (d.1626). The painter was known to be a heavy drinker and one can easily imagine the pair of them sharing a glass or two between sittings.

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There are quite a few more portrait images of Endymion Porter out there, including engravings and miniatures. Just look them up in Google Images.

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Guest post by LH Member Laurence Scales. This article first appeared in LH Members’ Newsletter of July 2019. 


Dean Street in Soho was probably named after a dean but sources disagree about which one. In this article I shall brandish for your casual admiration some deans whose names are commemorated in the streets of central Westminster. Regular readers of my articles will not expect me to fuss about ecclesiastical history but this little collection of deans includes a number notable in other ways.
Victoria Street, an unlovely main thoroughfare running south west from Westminster Abbey, was a Victorian invention, the clue is in the name, and its birth flattened a large area of mean and decayed housing, including Dickens’ “Devil’s Acre” for which the slang word slum was brought first into general use. This and follow-on improvements around central Westminster, and a weeding of duplicate street names to help the postman, resulted in a number of new streets in the area named after deans.

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Victoria Street, 1854.

Not being part of the diocese of the Bishop of London, there is no Bishop to house or commemorate at Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is a Royal Peculiar, or church under the direct control of the monarch, and the highest ranking divine of that shrine is the Dean. After Victoria Street ploughed across the cityscape Dean Street, running south outside Westminster Abbey, was subsumed into Great Smith Street. Concealed hard by Westminster Abbey there is also Dean’s Yard, named for the deanery there.
I became interested in the topography of central Westminster named after specific deans having noticed several, and then been surprised to find one of them named for the Victorian Dean Farrar whom I recognised from the historical back catalogue of lecturers at the scientific Royal Institution of Great Britain. But I will come to him later.

Before we consider the Victorian deans in the new wave of streets christened after the First World War, we should perhaps note briefly some of the other divines name-checked in the streets of the vicinity. John Islip (1464–1532) was abbot of the monastery of Westminster shortly before Henry VIII’s dissolution. (There has been a connection down the centuries between the Abbey and the village of Islip in Oxfordshire, and Dean Buckland died there.) John Islip street runs south towards the Tate Britain. Then Atterbury Street, which contains the new entrance to the Tate, was named for a Dean of Westminster appointed in 1713.

Vincent Square is named after Dean William Vincent (1739-1815), once also the headmaster of the ancient Westminster School which has a discrete frontage in Dean’s Yard. The school has the green centre of Vincent Square for its games. Vincent displayed an intriguing mania for researching the particulars of the trading voyages of the ancient Greeks extending into the Indian Ocean. (Vincent’s father was a merchant.) He compared the Greek’s anecdotal accounts of their travels with current knowledge in The Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients in the Indian Ocean (1807). Here is a taster.

“We shall have reason to observe as we proceed, that fish is almost the only means of supporting life, or furnishing the conveniencies of life, such as they are, to the natives; that their houses are constructed with the larger bones of fish, and thatched with the refuse; that their garments are of fish-skins; that their very bread is a fishy substance, pounded and preserved; and that even the few cattle they have, feed on fish.”

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Dean William Vincent. National Portrait Gallery, London.

His publications on this subject included the contribution of the previous Dean of Westminster, Samuel Horsley, who provided an astronomical appendix on the rising of the Pleiades constellation above the horizon in classical antiquity, but who did not (apparently) merit a street being named after him.

Apart from the loose canon (pun intended) of Dean Farrar, whose street leads off to the north of Victoria street, the other named Dean Streets are around or close to Smith Square. In that square, the architectural oddity of St John’s Church of 1728 lies, according to Dickens, “On its back with its legs in the air.”

Dean Trench was Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886). Dean Trench Street, west of Smith Square, was roughly a replacement for Little Tufton Street, which could otherwise be confused with its grown-up neighbour, Tufton Street. His address of 1857 On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries at the London Library to the Philological Society is regarded as launching the 80-year effort to produce the Oxford English Dictionary. The complete OED, distinctively, charts the changes in the meanings of words over the centuries, by example. The murderer William Minor and polymath John Lubbock were among many contributors of illustrative quotations.

Dean Stanley was Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-1881) who enjoyed a particularly good relationship with Queen Victoria. Dean Stanley Street, east of Smith Square was formerly Church Street of which London already had a few namesakes. Refreshingly, for a cleric in the Church of England, in which music plays such a large part, Stanley was apparently “incapable of distinguishing one tune from another.” He had a favourable opinion of the Quakers and saw Christians for what they had in common rather than what divided them. Notably, this made for his key role in university reform – as secretary to a royal commission of 1850. This commission urged removal of the requirement for students to subscribe to the 39 articles of faith of the Church of England in order to attend universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, and be awarded a degree. University College London had already broken with the practice but London had promptly founded a new Christian college, King’s. Previously, some of the most distinguished scientific minds in the country had been denied a university education, through being nonconformists. But the other side of the coin was that their thinking had been novel and untrammelled by the natural philosophy routinely taught at the ancient universities. Earlier reform might have denied the country many a celebrated savant.

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Dean Arthur Stanley. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Dean Bradley was George Granville Bradley (1821-1903), and his claim to inspiring the name of a street is, to me, obscure. Dean Bradley Street, south of Smith Square, was new. His main claim to fame is as the author of a number of Latin textbooks, on which subject I shall leave my next Dean to comment more eloquently than I ever could.

Frederic William Farrar (1831-1903) was an archdeacon at Westminster but a Dean at Canterbury. He was also a schoolmaster at Harrow and eager for educational reform. I must admit to cheering at his remarks that I found in his Royal Institution lecture, so unexpected in Victorian Britain, although the first below is perhaps unlikely to find favour with London Historians’ chief executive today.

‘We commonly see boys ready to sacrifice everything to cricket… they talk cricket, think cricket and dream cricket, morning, noon and night… This mania of muscularity has its share in the hunger-bitten poverty of our intellectual results.’

‘I must avow my distinct conviction that our present system of exclusively classical education… is a deplorable failure… Classical Education neglects all the power of some minds, and some of the powers of all minds.’

Farrar, published his views in Essays on a Liberal Education and sanctioned the burial in 1882 of the atheistic Charles Darwin in Westminster Abbey as deserving of that honour. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who famously attempted to ridicule Darwin’s ideas in debate with Thomas Huxley at Oxford in 1860 was, himself, formerly a Dean of Westminster. No street was named for him!

Remembrance of the unknown warrior was a concept born of mass slaughter beyond reckoning in the mud and chaos of no-man’s-land in the First World War and it found public expression first in memorials in Westminster and in Paris. Herbert Edward Ryle (1856-1925), Dean Ryle, was responsible for taking for Westminster the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dean Ryle Street, south of Smith Square and Horseferry Road was a new creation.

My favourite dean, Dean William Buckland (1784-1856), was a cracking eccentric, significant in the history of geology, zoology and gastronomy, who included in his adventures a minor dalliance with cannibalism. But unfortunately, he is still waiting for a Westminster street to be named after him.


Laurence Scales is a specialist guide and lecturer interested in the history of science, invention, engineering and medicine in London. He is a volunteer at the archives of the Royal Institution and Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.


rowland hill portraitSir Rowland Hill is best known as the originator of the Uniform Penny Post. In the 1830s the postal system was mismanaged, wasteful, expensive and slow. Letters were normally paid for by the recipient, not the sender. The recipient could simply refuse delivery. For the working class, a letter could cost more than a day’s wage. In addition, postal rates were complex, depending on the distance and the number of sheets in the letter.

Rowland Hill was born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire on 3 December 1795 into a family of enlightened educators during an age notorious for public school brutality as shown in the books of Charles Dickens. The family ethos was to instill moral training by kindness instead of fear of authority. At the age of 12, Rowland became a student teacher in his father’s school. He taught astronomy and earned extra money fixing scientific instruments. He also worked at the Assay Office in Birmingham and painted landscapes in his spare time

On 27 September 1827, Hill married Caroline Pearson, from nearby Wolverhampton. The couple had one son and three daughters. Hill became frustrated in his role as a schoolmaster and started looking for other avenues to achieve social progress and personal advancement. He worked on all sorts of ideas, inventions and innovations. Hill served from 1833 until 1839 as secretary of the South Australian Colonisation Commission, which worked successfully to establish a settlement in what is today Adelaide. Rowland Hill’s sister and her family emigrated there in 1850.

penny blackIn 1835 Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled Post Office Reform. Hill’s Penny Post plan was revolutionary, leading to various reforms and the introduction of the first postage stamp. On 10 January 1840, the Uniform Penny Post was established throughout the UK, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters which could be prepaid with the first postage stamp, known as the Penny Black. Since Britain was the first country to use adhesive stamps, she is the only country in the world that does not have to put the name of the country on them. Hill’s ideas were adopted virtually world-wide within a generation.

In 1849, Hill moved to Bartrams House – demolished in 1902 – near Hampstead Green on the corner of Haverstock Hill and Pond Street. He lived there for over 30 years until his death on 27 August 1879. While in Hampstead he served as Secretary to the Postmaster-General from 1846 to 1854 and then Secretary to the Post Office from 1854 to 1864. He received a knighthood in 1860 for his contribution to postal reform. Soon after Hill’s death, his house was incorporated into the North Western Fever Hospital which was replaced by the larger Hampstead General Hospital in 1905 and finally by the vast Royal Free Hospital, completed in 1975. A road behind the hospital bears his name. He was honoured by being buried at Westminster Abbey on 4 September 1879.

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There are three public statues of Hill; the earliest stands in Birmingham, one is in his hometown of Kidderminster and a third in King Edward Street in the city of London outside what was at one time the General Post Office Headquarters.

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On the boundary wall of the present Royal Free Hospital complex, facing down Rowland Hill Street, a chocolate-brown coloured plaque erected by the Society of Arts commemorates the originator of the Penny Post with the words: Sir Rowland Hill KCB originator of the penny post lived here 1849-1879 Born 1795 Died 1879. This is currently obscured by panels whilst a new building is being erected.

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the death of George Orwell, on 21 January 1950. One of the greatest writers of the 20th Century passed away just after midnight in Room 65 of University College Hospital, London. He was just 46 years old.

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At the time, Orwell, diagnosed with tuberculosis since 1947, was hoping to travel to a clinic in Switzerland to help improve his chronically weak lungs. His medical team were also considering treating him with penicillin, then a new wonder-drug, but still in short supply.

Orwell knew he was dying. Working with his doctor, Dr Morland, it was hoped that he could extend his life for a few more years at least. Morland had previously treated D.H. Lawrence for TB, but ultimately without success.

The writer had been checked into hospital in September 1949. He had a private room costing £17 per week (good socialist!). In this room, on 13 October, he was married for the second time, to Sonia Brownell (1918 – 1980) whom he’d met at Horizon, the literary magazine run by Cyril Connolly, his school friend from Eton. For the ceremony, he was too ill even to leave his bed, but nonetheless exceptionally happy. Brownell took care of all his affairs from then on and indeed years after his death, sometimes controversially.

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The old University College Hospital building, now Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research. Pic: M Paterson.

In his final days, one of Orwell’s main concerns was his son Richard, whom he’d adopted with his first wife Eileen. Fear of infection prevented the boy from coming close to his father which caused terrible frustration. After the writer’s death Richard Blair was brought up by Orwell’s sister Avril. In retirement, he is very supportive of Orwell-related events and activities. Interview.

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When Orwell checked in at UCH, Nineteen Eighty-Four had been published just three months. While Animal Farm (1945) had turned him into a widely known writer, it was his masterpiece that secured his finances, reputation and legacy. Indeed, fame.

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George Orwell’s grave, Sutton Courtenay, near Oxford. Pic: M Paterson.


George Orwell in Wikipedia.

Biographies.
Orwell The Authorised Biography by Michael Shelden.
George Orwell: A Life by Bernard Crick.
Orwell: The Life by D.J. Taylor.

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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

Sir Henry Cole (1808 – 1882), Founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Address in Hampstead: 3 Elm Row (1879 – 1880)

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The first commercially produced Christmas card, 1843.

Life and Times
henry coleSir Henry Cole was instrumental in the development of the Victoria and Albert Museum of which he was the first director. He introduced the world’s first commercial Christmas card in 1843 and played a key role in the introduction of the Penny Post. He is sometimes credited with the design of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black.

He was born in Bath on 15 July, 1808 into a middle-class family, the son of Henry Robert Cole and his wife Leticia and educated at Christ’s Hospital in London. With little chance of going to university he took a job, aged 15, as a clerk in the Public Record Office. Whilst working there he met and married Marian Fairman Bond on 28th December, 1833 with whom he had nine children. Cole lost his job there in 1835. However, his criticisms of the Commission’s activities enabled him to win back his lost post and led to the eventual establishment of a new Public Record Office, of which Cole was appointed an Assistant Keeper. From there he was recruited by Rowland Hill to work as an assistant between 1837 and 1840 and with whom he helped introduce the penny post.

In 1850 he secured the backing of Queen Victoria to establish, under the Presidency of Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations which was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. This was enormously popular and a great financial success. He was also instrumental in the decision that the £186,000 surplus from the Great Exhibition would be used for improving science and art education in the United Kingdom. Land was purchased in the South Kensington area and developed as the centre for a number of educational and cultural institutions eventually becoming the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1843 Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley to design a greeting card that he could send to all his friends as, at the time, it was the custom to laboriously handwrite greeting cards individually. It showed a happy family enjoying the holiday with side panels depicting the charitable side of Christmas and the Christmas card was born. One of these first Christmas cards which he had sent to his grandmother, sold at auction for £22,500.

Cole eventually retired with a knighthood bestowed upon him by Queen Victoria in 1875 and sought a home in Hampstead which he found in Elm Row. It is not exactly a busy thoroughfare, just a tiny turning off Heath Street. Yet it has a special significance at Christmas that few will appreciate – unless they take a look at the black plaque on the wall of 3 Elm Row which states: Sir Henry Cole lived here 1879-1880. He originated the custom of sending Christmas Cards and was largely responsible for the founding of the Kensington Museum. He was also a great postal reformer. Whilst living in Hampstead, the Heath became one of his new passions. He also built up a group of local friends in the area amongst them Gerard Manley Hopkins and George du Maurier. Unfortunately, Hampstead did not suit him. Cole himself wrote in his diary “the 400 feet ascent to Hampstead was a great obstacle.” As a result, he left Hampstead and moved to South Kensington, in 1880.

Cole had a known heart condition, but did not slow down as he aged. At the end of 1881, he started writing his memoir highlighting his half century of public service. On Monday, April 17, 1882 Cole sat for a portrait with the famous painter Whistler. That night his condition worsened, and he died in his home the following evening at the age of 74. He was buried in Brompton cemetery.

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roger williams 3We were deeply dismayed recently to hear that London Historians Member Roger Williams had passed away, on 23 August following a heart attack.

Roger had been a Member of long-standing, having joined us early on, in 2012. He was an enthusiastic supporter of London Historians as a group but also of our members individually. A regular fixture at LH monthly pub meet-ups, he was marvellous company and kindness personified. Many of our members have experienced ready advice, suggestions, the loan (or often gift) of a book or magazine, or myriad other acts of kindness.

Roger was, first and foremost, a writer. A professional journalist for most of his career, he also wrote many books, the ones in recent years focusing on London and in particular, the Thames. Roger was also an active member of the Docklands History Group which, like us, benefited from his support and wisdom.

As for Roger’s background before we met him, his wife Pam kindly sent us both the picture you see above, taken in Genoa only last June, and these words:

Roger was born in Wimbledon in 1947 and grew up and went to school there. He had (has) two sisters. He left school at 17 and went straight into journalism, working initially on a trade magazine. I met him when he was 23 and we spent a few years roaming around Europe, teaching English in Italy for a while and working in a bar in Spain. He then worked on Mayfair magazine (I know!!) and Titbits (I’m a bit vague on the chronology). We bought our first home, a flat in Fulham, where our daughter Joby was born in 1978. We then moved to Putney. He worked on the Sunday Times Magazine but left when Murdoch took the paper to Wapping, although he later returned as a freelance and spent several years there, making many friends. He wrote two anti-nuclear books for WH Allen. We moved out to rural Kent in 1990 and he then wrote Lunch with Elizabeth David – published by Little Brown – which was quite well received. After that he concentrated mainly on travel writing and editing, mostly for Insight Guides and Dorling Kindersley. With the advance of technology, and our move back to London in 2009, he got into self-publishing, and furthered his interest in London and the Thames. He then wrote the three London books you know about and that brings us up to date when you first knew him.”

Our deepest condolences go to both Pam and Joby.

Thank-you, Roger. We’ll miss you.

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Review: William Blake, at Tate Britain. 

Very recently the precise location of William Blake’s body was identified in Bunhill Fields nonconformist cemetery just north of the City. There followed the unveiling of a brand new grave stone on 11 August last year. The organisers were caught out by the many hundreds of Blake fans (including around a dozen London Historians) who turned up to honour this eminent painter, poet, engraver, printer and visionary.

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Dedication of William Blake gravestone, 11 August 2018.

That occasion made it clear that he is revered, among Londoners in particular; he commands a place on the pantheon of British artists with fellow sons of the captial Dobson, Hogarth and Turner.

Apart from four years spent in Sussex (1800 – 04), Blake spent his whole life in London: in Lambeth during most of the 1790s but the rest always a stone’s throw from his birthplace in Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). It is horrifying to learn that the Blake family home was demolished as recently as 1963, replaced by an ugly block of flats named William Blake House, adding insult to injury.

It is marvellous that so soon after that momentous event of last year, Tate Britain is hosting the most comprehensive William Blake (1757 – 1827) exhibition in a generation. Over 300 of his works are on display, arranged chronologically. This is broken down in to distinct phases of his professional life. In Room 1 we learn about his family background and training as an engraver and how he rejected the methods and strictures of the Academy; we then go on to find out how he went on to earn a living, first as an engraver and then as a illustrator and printer, exploiting a printmaking technique of his own devising: ‘relief etching’. This allowed him to illuminate text on the same page. Subject matter came from many sources including the Bible, Chaucer, Shakespeare and of course, his own mysterious, other-worldly poetry. Out of this, emerged the likes of The Tyger and Jerusalem, though the larger body of his copious writing is forgotten by all but aficionados.

And here the medium commands the format, so virtually everything that Blake produced was perforce quite small, tiny even. Book size or smaller. Except for four or five pieces near the end of the exhibition, the largest pieces in this show a the roughly A3 sized series of 12 (including the rather unhappy Nebuchadnezzar, and bizarrely naked Newton) But it is mostly exquisite and no, you can only really appreciate it properly in the original rather than a modern book, however well printed.

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Nebuchadnezzar

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Newton

But what about the art? I’m a bit conflicted about Blake. All those beardy scary old men, endless in the biblical stuff; all those wraith-like female spirits whooshing diaphanously through the air or sea or stars; all those muscular bottoms! I feel I like him because I’m supposed to like him and that he’s a Londoner. I don’t think he’s technically good as an anatomical illustrator: all those muscles flatter to deceive. That said, his style and his imagination are unique. There’s an El Greco quality to the stretching of body and limb; there’s a Bosch quality to his animals, monsters and nightmare visions. You can examine all these 300 plus works and not become inured to the eeriness: all is fresh. There’s also a graffiti style to a lot of periphery of the illustrations which is quite interesting.

Very few of Blake’s images are standalone; mostly they are series, and mostly for publication. The Tate has assembled many complete series for this exhibition, one of my favourites of which is America A Prophecy, in 18 plates. Here, below, is possibly my favourite, Plate 15, ‘What Time the Thirteen Governors …’ The series was made in 1793 during Blake’s Lambeth spell, a nice mid-career example. What attracts me to this particular plate are the scary fish at the bottom which very much have a cartoony quality. There are, here and there throughout the show, images that make you smile a bit. You’d like to think that this is Blake having fun, being playful. But even for Blake experts, one feels you cannot be sure.

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Almost as you walk out of the exhibition, Blake bids you farewell with a version of the Ancient of Days, originally from 1794 as the frontispiece for Europe: A Prophecy. Yes, because it’s probably his most famous painting, yes, because it was one of his favourites but more than that because he was still creating versions of it right at the end of his life.  Like most of the works in this show, it is smaller than you imagined.

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Our Man from the Telegraph, Alistair Sooke, called this exhibition ‘over-curated’. As a perfectly straightforward chronological romp through William Blake’s life, surely the opposite is more likely to be the case? No, I think the Tate has kept it simple: displayed as many works in as much light as the mainly watercolour medium will allow; given visitors as much space as possible to get around these quite small works; and given just enough background information to prick the sufficiently curious to find out more.

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Blake – I reckon I’m far from alone in that – but I do know I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition and should have given myself at least another hour. I must go again.

Other views:
Londonist
Evening Standard

 

The Blake Society
William Blake on Wikipedia

 


William Blake runs at Tate Britain until 2 February 2020. Standard adult entry is £18 with various discounts from there, including £9 for National Art Pass/Art Fund holders.

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