Artist and astrologer John Varley encouraged Blake to sketch portraits of the figures who populated his visions, called 'visionary heads'. The best known is the flea.Blake claimed that, while he was sketching the flea, it had explained to him that fleas were inhabited by the souls of bloodthirsty men, who were confined to the bodies of insects because, if they were the size of horses, they would drink so much blood that most of the country would be depopulated. The flea's bloodthirsty nature can be seen in its eager tongue, and the cup (for blood-drinking) that it is carrying.


  • Title: The Ghost of a Flea
  • Creator: William Blake
  • Creator Death Place: London, United Kingdom
  • Creator Birth Place: London, United Kingdom
  • Date Created: Around 1819
  • Provenance: Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949
  • Physical Dimensions: w162 x h214 mm
  • Original Title: The Ghost of a Flea
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Tempera heightened with gold on mahogany

Additional Items

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps