William Blake is Burning Bright in Moscow

04/12/2011 18:45 GMT | Updated 01/02/2012 10:12 GMT

This week the exhibition William Blake and British Visionary Art opened at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. A collaboration between Tate Britain and the Pushkin Museum, supported by the British Council, it is the first exhibition in Russia dedicated to Blake's art and legacy.

A new translation of Songs of Innocence and Experience has also been published by the British Council in partnership with the State Library of Foreign Literature - the first time that Blake's illustrations and poetry have been published alongside each other in Russia.

Blake was the most original poet-painter to come out of England in the early 19th century: a man totally unafraid to challenge the authorities with his own individual views on just about every element of social justice.

A courageous and visionary man, who fought throughout his life against the established orthodoxies of the day, he railed against the way in which organised religion, the schooling of children, the growing industrial revolution and the inequality of men and women stunted the growth of human capacity. His poetry and his art are shot through with an extraordinary zeal for a better, more equal society.

This exhibition illustrates how Blake matched words and images with unrivalled power and fluency. He invented a form of relief etching to produce nearly all his books, paintings, pamphlets and poems, giving his work the colour and texture of illuminated manuscripts.

Many of the works in this exhibition have a magnificent graphic boldness to them, while others, with their tender and lyrical decorations, seem to hark back to a vanishing tradition of English folk art, specially the beautiful pages of Songs of Innocence and Experience.

The exhibition is testament to the fact that culture is key to Anglo Russian relations - put crudely it reaches parts that other forms of dialogue simply can't reach. It provides a space for discussion of common interests and aspirations; as evinced at the bi-lateral meeting earlier this year when President Medvedev told Prime Minister David Cameron "We have lots of good examples to this co-operation [between our two countries]."

Recently the Russian delegation visited the London Book Fair and inauguration in the context of the Russian-British outer-space year of co-operation of the monument to Yuri Gagarin."

Furthermore, international collaborations with institutions and artists bring British creativity to the attention of huge audiences and unlock creative and commercial opportunities. It is surely significant the countries that Britain is keenest to trade with are themselves tremendously keen on our artists, authors and performers.

In the first three months of next year alone the British Council is working on the first ever exhibition of Henry Moore to be shown in the Kremlin Museum, Moscow; UK Now, probably the biggest- ever celebration of British arts held in China; and the first ever contemporary British art exhibition to be shown in Saudi Arabia. These initiatives form lasting links that will stand us in good stead for the future.

We are especially pleased that this exhibition is taking place in Moscow as the Pushkin Museum moves towards its centenary year, which it celebrates in May 2012. The power of an institution not only to survive for a century, but to grow, change, develop and innovate, is a testimony not only to its strength, but to the affection in which it is held by all those who visit it.

Blake, who was born and lived nearly all his life in London, would surely have been proud that his luminous and idiosyncratic works have been chosen to travel to Moscow to pave the way for this centenary, and that they should celebrate the very ideals of art and imagination which are the foundation stones of his own work.