Pity William Blake Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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English poet and artist William Blake painted Pity in 1795. This color print was finished in watercolor and ink on paper and is part of a group referred to as the Large Colour Prints.

As was the case with some of his other works of the same period, it was heavily influenced by Shakespeare, Milton, and the Bible. Pity is unusual, however, in that it's a visual interpretation of the following lines from Macbeth, in which he visualizes the aftermath of his planned assassination of King Duncan:

And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye.
- Macbeth

Similar to other paintings in this group Pity is a monotype that was created by using a matrix to produce as many as three impressions, each of which was then completed by hand. There are, in fact, more than three remaining impressions of the painting in circulation today.

Blake uses the theme of pity extensively in the painting, which shows a female cherub leaning down, ready to grab a baby from the mother. Some critics believe that this personifies a Christian element, something for which Blake was quite well known. Other critics feel that there is a connection between this painting and the helpless, hypnotic state of The Wind Among The Reeds written by William Butler Yeats in 1989.

The versions

Perhaps the best known (and also most elaborate) version of Pity is currently held by the Tate Gallery in London. This one is also often viewed as the only one that has actually been completed. W.Graham Robertson presented it to the gallery in 1939. The British Museum has what is viewed as a 'proof print' of Pity. This one is notably smaller than the original design's final version. It shows the same figure, but this time it is partly covered by vegetation in the form of long blades of grass.

A third version of Pity is currently in the custodianship of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This one has, however, not been as extensively reworked as the one mentioned above. Mrs. Robert W. Goelet donated it to the museum in 1958. A fourth version presently forms part of the collection of the Yale Center for British Art. Although only slightly retouched, this rendition has been stained by varnish. According to some experts, there is reason to believe that this one is actually the original that was first printed from the bigger matrix in 1795.