NOVELIST Beryl Kingston has praised a major exhibition about Felpham’s most famous resident.
Beryl wrote about William Blake’s three years in the village from 1800 and his trial for sedition in her book, Gates of Paradise.
Some of the poet’s greatest works from poetry to painting have been put on display by the National Trust at Petworth House.
It is the first exhibition to bring together in a show many of the works that were inspired by Blake’s experience of living in Felpham.
Beryl, who lives in Aldwick, said: “The first thing you see as you enter the Blake exhibition at Petworth House is Thomas Phillips’ familiar portrait of Blake, carefully posed and painted in oils.
“It’s an inspired introduction because it looks as though Blake himself is welcoming us in.
“But, after the bold colouring of Thomas Phillips’ oils, the overall impression of Blake’s work is what a limited palette he had to work with.
“His paintings are basically grey, fawn and white, with touches of green, pale blue, pink and an eye-catching red.
“Just to your left as you enter there are two of the poetical heads he painted for Hayley, a blank-eyed Milton and Spencer. They are on loan from the Manchester City Galleries and are both painted in identical colours of peacock green and pale brown.
“What an impressive sight all 12 of his poetic heads must have been.
“As we progress around the room, something else catches the eye and the imagination and that is how often Blake’s elongated figures resemble columns and trees and often form carved and curving borders for the central figure of the picture, very noticeable in A Vision of the Last Judgement and The Fall of Man, which are displayed side by side. In The Fall of Man, Christ is surrounded by weeping angels whose white wings are curved like Corinthian columns.
“Some of the pictures here achieve the inspired grandeur of The Ancient of Days, which doesn’t appear here. However, Satan does, arousing the rebel angels where he looks pained but has the body of a Greek athlete and in a companion picture in which he is a bronze figure, spot-lit by a waterfall of white light on a canvas full of moody reds, browns and greens.
“On the next wall, there are engravings that are as small as postage stamps, but well worth stooping to study.
“And on the fourth wall of the room is a picture I hadn’t seen before called The Sea of Time and Space, which the notes alongside explain ‘appears to revolve around the theme of choice between imagination and the order of classical thought’.
“Classical thought is a pale, female figure, veiled and statuesque, painted in pale brown and greeny-grey. Kneeling beside her is a male figure in red, who is looking straight out at his audience and dominates the canvas. So he could well represent Blake’s imagination. There’s a lot to consider in this exhibition.”
Blake arrived in Felpham from London with his wife, Catherine, and it was the only place outside the capital where he lived. They rented a cottage and he famously described Felpham as ‘the sweetest spot on Earth’.
The display re-unites the works he made during those three years with later pieces that were infomed by the landscapes of the Sussex coast and countryside.
Among the works by Blake on show are those on loan from the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Tate.
They have combined with three paintings by Blake from the Petworth collection and a fourth on loan from National Trust property Arlington Court, in Devon.
Andrew Loukes, the exhibition’s manager, said: “William Blake in Sussex is not only a subject of great 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, esp- ecially at Petworth – the only great English country house to hold major paintings by the artist.” The exhibition runs until March 25. Entry is by pre-booked tickets only at nationaltrust.org.uk/