The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of a fully searchable electronic edition of Blake’s 116 water color illustrations to Thomas Gray’s poems. The Archive first published these designs in April 2005 in our Preview mode. This republication substantially increases the number and range of Blake’s pictorial motifs available for searching on the Archive.
The designs for Gray’s poems are among Blake’s major achievements as an illustrator. They were commissioned in 1797 by Blake’s friend, the sculptor John Flaxman, as a gift for his wife Ann, to whom Blake addressed the poem that ends the series. The commission may have been inspired by the Flaxmans’ seeing Blake’s water color designs to Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, begun in 1795. The Gray illustrations follow the same basic format. Blake cut windows in large sheets of paper and mounted in these windows the texts of Gray’s poems from a 1790 letterpress edition. Blake then drew and colored his designs surrounding the printed texts. Although listed by William Michael Rossetti in his catalogue of Blake’s drawings and paintings, published in the 1863 and 1880 editions of Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake, the Gray illustrations were virtually unknown until …read more