Romanticism in art was concerned with the power of nature – including the weather. This was encompassed in the concept of ‘the sublime’, literally meaning something that is ‘raised aloft’. It is so immense, whether physically or spiritually, that we can’t fully perceive or comprehend it. William Blake was a major figure of Romanticism in both poetry and art.
As well as British Romanticism, Japanese art and Haiku poetry commonly use the weather as a metaphor. Japanese artist Hiroshige has been referred to as “the poet of rain”. In Japanese culture the weather is considered it to be a clock that marks the milestones of life.
‘The Sun at his Eastern Gate’ is one of twelve watercolor designs by William Blake for John Milton’s poems L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, that contrast the cheerful man with the melancholic, thoughtful one. Blake was a poet himself as well as being an artist, and Milton was one of his inspirations. His work was probably inspired by the lines;
Right against the eastern gate,
Where the great Sun begins his state,
Rob’d in flames, and amber light,
The clouds in thousand liveries dight.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo is considered to be the God of the sun, however Blake designed his own mythology in his artwork. His personification of the sun at his eastern gate may be read simply as sunrise, and the smaller figures behind him the clouds, carrying platters of food which celebrate the sun’s life-giving energy. However the outstretched arms of the sun and his sceptre suggest the more spiritual subject of the gates of heaven with throngs of angels rejoicing all around. The ‘flames and amber light’ of the poem give the painting its fiery colours - Blake’s interpretation of a heavenly light. Blake was interested in relationship between divinity and humanity. He claimed to have seen visions from a young age, usually of religious themes including God and angels. This visionary quality comes into his painting, and served as inspiration to British surrealist artist including Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland.
Rain was a constant subject in Japanese Ukiyo-e (traditional woodblock prints and paintings). Whilst in British art the rain might be used as a metaphor for gloom and sadness, in Japanese art it is treated as a necessity and a blessing. Artworks depicting the rain served to represent gratitude. As seen in artistic renderings such as Harunobu Suzuki’s ‘Shrine Visit in Night Rain’, in Japan the sight of someone out in the rain without an umbrella is unusual. The rain itself is depicted with straight directional lines, in-keeping with the geometric simplicity of Ukiyo-e compositions. The direcitonality helps to suggest the wind along with the waving trees and ruffled skirt. The woman is struggling to hold onto her lantern at the same time as lifting her kimono to prevent it from getting wet.