A Vision of the Last Judgment
William Blake (London 1757 - London 1827)
Art / Drawings and watercolours
18 Feb 1808 (letter to Ozias Humphry) - 1808 (signed and dated)
Pencil, pen and watercolour on paper
503 x 400 mm
Place of origin
LondonOrder this image
Petworth House and Park, West Sussex (Accredited Museum)
William Blake (1757–1827) was a visionary artist and poet whose work was not well known in his own lifetime. He worked principally in watercolour, creating powerful and often complex compositions that provided new visual interpretations of Christian subjects, classical myths and literary stories. This dramatic scene depicts the Last Judgement, when the ‘just and the dammed’ are judged before Christ and rise to heaven or fall to hell. Blake provided a detailed explanation of the densely packed action, describing the ascending figures, on the left, as the righteous who ‘rise thro[ugh] the air with their children & Families’, and those on the right as the wicked or the ‘dammed’, who appear ‘chained & bound together fall[ing] thro[ugh] the air … some are scourged by spirits with flames of fire into the Abyss of Hell’. This image was commissioned in 1808 by Elizabeth Ilive, Countess of Egremont (c.1769–1822). She had married George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751–1837), in 1801, having already had several children by him out of wedlock, but the couple separated in 1803, apparently as a result of the earl’s infidelity. The subject of this painting may have been considered particularly appropriate, allowing Elizabeth to focus upon religious devotion rather than her past sorrow.
Watercolour, pen and ink and pencil on paper, A Vision of the Last Judgment, by William Blake (1757-1827), inscribed: W. Blake (WB in monogram) inv. and del. 1808. Christ is depicted enthroned among the Blessed at the top. In the centre, the Angels of the Judgment Day sound trumpets. At left, the Blessed can be seen rising in a stream towards the throne and at right, the damned drop into Hell where Appolyon is seated, six-headed and bound. Previously mounted on a canvas and stretcher, in 1957 it was remounted on cardboard.
Following Satan calling up his Legions (NT 486264), 'A Vision of the Last Judgment' was the second painting commissioned from Blake by Elizabeth Ilive, Countess of Egremont (1769-1822). It is the third in a series of works dealing with the subject of the Last Judgment and was potentially adapted in reflection of its client’s circumstances, regarding which its themes were certainly pertinent. The first version (Glasgow Museums) was done for Blake's principal patron, the London-based civil servant Thomas Butts (1757–1845), as was a subsequent related work, 'The Fall of Man' (Victoria & Albert Museum). The present work was one of very few works by Blake to be shown at the Royal Academy, where he exhibited only twelve pictures in his lifetime and never again after 'A Vision of The Last Judgment'. The work, which went unnoticed by the reviewers, echoes in part the version of the subject in the Sistine Chapel by Blake’s hero Michelangelo. Uniquely in Blake’s art, the iconography of 'A Vision of the Last Judgment' is fully explained by the artist in a descriptive note, which survives in three autograph versions, one of which is in the Petworth House Archive (no. 87). Text adapted from William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion, ed. Andrew Loukes, National Trust in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2018, p. 95.
Commissioned by the Countess of Egremont in 1807 on the recommendation of Ozias Humphry, RA (see Blake's letter, 18 February 1808); thence by descent, until the death in 1952 of the 3rd Lord Leconfield, who had given Petworth to the National Trust in 1947, and whose nephew and heir, John Wyndham, 6th Lord Leconfield and 1st Lord Egremont (1920-1972) arranged for the acceptance of the major portion of the collections at Petworth in lieu of death duties (the first ever such arrangement) in 1956 by HM Treasury
Petworth House, The Egremont Collection (acquired in lieu of tax by HM Treasury in 1956 and subsequently transferred to the National Trust)
Marks and inscriptions
W.BLAKE INV. and del. 1808 (inscription reproduced exactly from Collins Baker)
Makers and roles
William Blake (London 1757 - London 1827), artist
William Blake , Tate Britain, London, 2019 - 2020 Blake & British Visionary Art, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, 2011 - 2012
Collins Baker 1920 C.H.Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures, in the possession of Lord Leconfield, privately printed by the Medici Society, London, 1920, p. 6 no. 454, transcribed letter: “To OZIAS HUMPHREY, Esq. February 18, 1808 William Blake.” Collins Baker 1920 C.H.Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures, in the possession of Lord Leconfield, privately printed by the Medici Society, London, 1920, p. 6. no. 454, transcribed letter:“To OZIAS HUMPHREY, Esq. February 18, 1808 William Blake.” Gilchrist 1863 & 1880 Alexander Gilchrist, Life of William Blake, ‘Pictor Ignotes’ with Selections from his Poems and Other Writings, 2 vols, London and Cambridge, 1863, 2 vols, London and Cambridge, 1863, vol.I, p.212; vol.II, p.209, no.74, (with an annotated catalogue of Blake’s paintings and drawings by William Michael Rossetti). Further edition published in 1880; vol.I, pp.260-2; vol.II, p.218, no.89. William Blake, (ed. A.G.B.Russell), Tate Gallery, 1913, no.40 (under entry for Stirling-Maxwell version) Butlin 1981: Martin Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake, New Haven & London 1981 William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion, edited by Andrew Loukes, National Trust in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2018.