The Human Form Divine: William Blake from the Paul Mellon Collection

In the spring of 1997, the Center celebrated its twentieth anniversary with an exhibition of its incomparable collection of illuminated books, engravings, and drawings by William Blake. The Center’s founder, Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), assembled a rich and remarkable group of works over a lifetime of personal involvement with the poetry and art of this romantic paragon. For this comprehensive survey of the collection, several of the Center’s twelve illuminated books were exhibited in their entirety for the first time. These included Blake’s masterwork, the unique, colored copy of Jerusalem, two copies of the pastoral Songs of Innocence, and the prophetic Songs of ExperienceBook of UrizenBook of Thel, and America a Prophecy. Blake’s work as a painter was represented by individual tempera paintings from his series of illustrations to the Bible commissioned by Thomas Butts. A generous selection of forty sheets from the watercolor illustrations to the Poems of Thomas Gray revealed the magnificent range of Blake’s interpretive genius and the brilliance of his watercolor technique.

View works from the collection included in this exhibition here.


Patrick Noon, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Rare Books at the Center, organized this special exhibition, which was accompanied by a catalogue illustrated in color.

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William Blake, Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus (detail), 1799 to 1800, tempera with pen and black ink, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection