William Blake and the Pilgrims’ way

William Blak’e 1810 Canterbury Tales print

The William Blake exhibition opening at Tate Britain today has a reminder of the artist’s interest in the Pilgrims’ Way.

He started thinking about Chaucer’s characters in The Canterbury Tales in about 1806. However he was peeved when his friend Thomas Stothard allegedly stole his idea by signing deal with a publisher for a pilgrims’ painting.

Blake completed his own Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims painting in 1808 and issued it as a print in 1810.

Southwark’s Tabard Inn is depicted as having a gothic gateway. In the background there is the suggestion of St Dunstan-in-the-East towering above the other London city churches which would have been seen by Blake although not of course Chaucer.

The depiction of the characters can only have come from a close reading of the Tales.

Later Blake was to spend long periods at Shoreham in Kent which is on the Pilgrims’ Way out of London. He stayed with fellow artist Samuel Palmer who lived at Water House where the ancient pilgrim path passes the door.

William Blake is at Tate Britain daily until 2 February; £18 (conc £17).

Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims print by William Blake at Tate Britain

The pilgrims, with Chaucer at the back, leave The Tabard Inn in Southwark’s Borough High Street (detail from Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims print by William Blake at Tate Britain)

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