Introduction to the Exhibition

The title of the exhibition comes from an aphorism in one of Blake's early prophetic books: "The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction" (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790-93). The saying contrasts the behaviour of two animals: the wild, untamable tiger and the eminently trainable horse. They are symbols of boundless energy and inspiration on the one hand, and mindless training and received ideas on the other. Blake states his preference very clearly.

The strength of the Gallery's Blake collection lies in its representation of the artist's last years, in particular his series of watercolours illustrating Dante's Divine Comedy. They were part of a group of works that were bought in 1918-20 through the Felton Bequest - one of the Bequest's most spectacular acquisitions. Since 1988 the collection has been augmented by important early works - both from Blake's original inventions, as well as his engravings after other artists. The reproductive engravings remind us that Blake began his professional career apprenticed to an engraver. The skills he acquired gave him a degree of technical mastery that allowed him to adapt and to change the conventions of printmaking in ways that were quite original. They also provided him with his most important source of income, meagre though it was. The exhibition was introduced with this group of works.

Individual drawings and prints from our Blake collection have been included in various exhibitions at the Gallery in the past decade. During this time, too, selected works from the group have been lent to specialist exhibitions in Japan (1990) and Spain (1996). However, this exhibition was the first occasion since 1989 that our Blake collection was displayed in its entirety. It was the last exhibition of prints and drawings to be held at the Gallery's St Kilda Road site before its redevelopment.

A note on the display: The works in the exhibition were installed in unbroken series and clustered, as far as possible, chronologically. The watercolours were hung in narrative sequence on the outer walls of the room.

© 1999