Lucy Dawkins, Tate Photography

The Tate will recreate William Blake’s failed 1809 solo show as part of a landmark new exhibition about the poet and artist.

Best known now for writing the words to hymn Jerusalem, Blake spent most of his life in obscurity penning visionary verses that he illustrated himself.

A born-and-bred Londoner, who claimed to have seen angels in a tree in Peckham Rye as a child, he sold fewer than 30 copies of his most famous poetry book Songs of Innocence and of Experience before his death in 1827.

His attempt to reach a wider audience with an art show in his brother’s shop in Soho was a flop with few visitors, no sales and only one review a bad one.

Tate Britain boss Alex Farquharson said next year’s show would look at Blake “first and foremost as a visual artist”. He said: “I think for many he is a poet first and his art illustrated his poetry but what we are saying, what the curator is arguing, is that his visual imagination was primary to his work in general.”

Blake published a catalogue of his only solo exhibition, detailing the works on show, allowing Tate staff to recreate what Mr Farquharson described as “an abject failure”. He said: “I think it was only remarked upon in a couple of places, so he was very obscure in his day, but it wasn’t from want of trying.

“He supported himself financially by engraving other artists’ work, so the work he is most known for now was obscure and misunderstood in his day.”

The Blake exhibition, which will open at Tate Britain in September, is part of a series of shows announced for next year with work by Van Gogh and contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson also being exhibited.

French painter Pierre Bonnard will be the subject of a Tate Modern show next January and the Bankside Gallery will also welcome back Eliasson, who filled its Turbine Hall with a huge sun in 2003.

Tate Britain will also run an exhibition examining Van Gogh’s relationship with Britain and a retrospective of photojournalist Don McCullin’s work in Vietnam, Northern Ireland and Syria.


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