New exhibition celebrates William Blake’s relationship with Sussex

National Trust / John Miller

A major new exhibition at the National Trust’s Petworth House is the first of its kind to celebrate William Blake’s relationship with Sussex. Some of Blake’s greatest works from poetry to painting will be displayed at Petworth House in West Sussex this winter. This exhibition is the first to bring together for display many of the works that were inspired by his experience living in Sussex.

Blake lived in Felpham

Sussex remains the only area outside of London that Blake ever lived, spending three years in Sussex from 1800 to 1803 with his wife Catherine, renting a cottage in Felpham that he described as ‘the sweetest spot on Earth’. Petworth will re-unite Blake’s works made during his time at Felpham along with later pieces that were informed by the landscapes of the Sussex coast and countryside. The exhibition will include extraordinary works by Blake on loan from the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Tate. These will be combined with three paintings by Blake from the Petworth collection and a fourth on loan from the
National Trust’s Arlington Court, Devon.

Significance to Petworth

This new exhibition has particular significance to Petworth. Elizabeth Ilive, mistress and then wife to George Wyndham, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, commissioned Blake to paint The Last Judgement, 1808 and Satan calling up his Legions, c. 1800-1805, both of which are usually displayed in the mansion. The inclusion of Blake’s work at Petworth stands as the only example of his work within an English country house collection. This suggests the patrons had a forward thinking taste in art which led them to commission visionary paintings from an artist largely unheard of during his own lifetime, considered mad by his contemporaries
and someone who had been tried for sedition. Elizabeth Ilive’s role also demonstrates a revolutionary woman of the period by taking an active role in commissioning artists.

The Sea of Time and Space
The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of the Life of Man) by William Blake (London 1757 – London 1827) (c) National Trust

Andrew Loukes, Exhibitions Manager, said: “William Blake in Sussex is not only a subject of great local interest but also of national cultural significance, not least because the famous lines that were later adopted for the song Jerusalem were written in the county. It’s very exciting to be mounting the first exhibition to re-unite many of Blake’s Sussex-related works, especially at Petworth – the only great English country house to hold major paintings by the artist.”

An unmissable addition to the exhibition, on loan from the British Museum, will be the hand coloured relief etching of Blake’s illustrated epic poem Milton, of which only four are still in existence.

Early booking is recommended for William Blake in West Sussex: Visions of Albion, at Petworth from 13 January to 25 March. Entry is by pre-booked, timed tickets only, which are on sale from 5
October from or 0344 249 1895. £12 for National Trust members or £16 for non-members, ticket includes entry to the gardens, parkland and selected
rooms in the house.


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