Page last updated at 13:06 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 14:06 UK

Blake painting fights old battle

Paintings of the Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake and Thomas Stothard
William Blake's Canterbury Pilgrims (top) will hang alongside Thomas Stothard's painting of the same scene (bottom)

A painting by William Blake is to be displayed alongside the 19th century work which stole its thunder.

The Canterbury Pilgrims is a last minute loan to an exhibition at Tate Britain, which already owns a version of the same scene by Thomas Stothard.

Blake made his piece with the aim of turning it into a lucrative print, and was horrified when Stothard's painting was chosen for reproduction instead.

Both go on show from 20 April, as the Tate recreates Blake's only exhibition.

The artist had assumed his publisher friend Robert Hartley Cromek would take a print from his 1808 painting.

This would have meant a wide audience around the country seeing the work and, hopefully, purchasing reproductions.

Instead, Cromek chose Stothard's work, which was based on the same scene from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Blake then accused the publisher of stealing his idea.


The style of Blake's painting was austere, harking back to the 16th century. Stothard's use of lively colours and animated figures was much more fashionable for the time.

Blake said of his rival's painting: "All is misconceived, and its misexecution is equal to its misconception."

The new exhibition will also include Blake's own engraving of his painting alongside the Stothard-Cromek print.

Opening on 20 April, it restages a solo show mounted by Blake in 2809 to prove his worth to the art world.

The exhibition, mounted in a room above his brother's shop, was a resounding failure, drawing scathing reviews from critics.

The addition of The Canterbury Pilgrims means that the Tate's vent will now feature ten paintings from the original exhibition. Five of the works have since disappeared.

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