William Blake (1757-1827)
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William Blake was an English artist, printmaker, poet and mystic. He was best known for his poetry collection “Songs of Innocence” written in 1789, which are poems written from a child’s point of view. He was not widely popular during his lifetime, however his paintings and poetry are considered to be significantly important in art and literature history.
Blake was born in London into a middle class family, the third of seven children. He never attended school, and was educated at home by his mother. His family was very religious, and the Bible was an early influence on the artist, and deeply impacted his work and his life. It is said that from a young age, Blake would claim to have visions of angels and otherworldly beings.
Blake taught himself to draw at a young age from copies of Greek antiques purchased by his father. His parents enrolled him in art school and around that same time, Blake also became interested in poetry.
In 1772, Blake became apprenticed to engraver James Basire and by the time his apprenticeship was through, he was a professional engraver. He became a student at the Royal Academy in 1779, and began to paint in the Classical style, following the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. He met author Mary Wollstonecraft around this time and illustrated many of her stories. This led to his work with illuminated manuscripts and relief etching, which was a technique he learned from his brother Robert.
Blake continued to create illustrations for a number of publications, most famously for Dante’s “Inferno” in 1826. Though this project was never completed, Blake’s work for “Inferno” has been hailed as some of his best by art critics, and were not only illustrations for a poem, but pictorial commentary on Blake’s beliefs in heaven and hell. Blake died before finishing the “Inferno” project, and was said to have spent the entire day of his death working relentlessly on the series.
Blake has been credited with reshaping the Western world’s ideas of the true definition of “imagination.” He believed that human kind could overcome the limitations of the five senses, and open up the doors of perception. Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” This idea truly was a theme in his entire body of work, and remains a prevalent theme for artists today.
Still wondering about an 18th century British illustration or painting in your family collection? Contact us…it could be by William Blake.