William Blake (1757-1827)
English poet, painter, and engraver, who created a unique form of illustrated verse; his poetry, inspired by mystical vision, is among the most original lyric and prophetic in the language.
Blake, the son of a hosier, was born November 28, 1757, in London, where he lived most of his life. Largely self-taught, he was, however, widely read. As a child, Blake wanted to become a painter. He was sent to drawing school and at the age of 14 was apprenticed to James Basire, an engraver. After his 7-year term was over, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy, but he rebelled against the aesthetic doctrines of its president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Blake did, however, later establish friendships with such academicians as John Flaxman and Henry Fuseli, whose work may have influenced him. In 1784 he set up a printshop; although it failed after a few years, for the rest of his life Blake eked out a living as an engraver and illustrator. His wife helped him print the illuminated poetry for which he is remembered today.
As was to be Blake's custom, he illustrated the Songs with designs that demand an imaginative reading of the complicated dialogue between word and picture. His method of illuminated printing is not completely understood. The most likely explanation is that he wrote the words and drew the pictures for each poem on a copper plate, using some liquid impervious to acid, which when applied left text and illustration in relief. Ink or a color wash was then applied, and the printed picture was finished by hand in watercolors. Blake has been called a preromantic because he rejected neoclassical literary style and modes of thought. His graphic art too defied 18th-century conventions. Always stressing imagination over reason, he felt that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. His rhythmically patterned linear style is also a repudiation of the painterly academic style. The influence of Michelangelo is especially evident in the radical foreshortening and exaggerated muscular form in one of his best-known illustrations, popularly known as The Ancient of Days, the frontispiece to his poem Europe, a Prophecy (1794).
Much of Blake's painting was on religious subjects: illustrations for the work of John Milton, his favorite poet (although he rejected Milton's Puritanism), for John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and for the Bible, including 21 illustrations to the Book of Job. Among his secular illustrations were those for an edition of Thomas Gray's poems and the 537 watercolors for Edward Young's Night Thoughts—only 43 of which were published.


Three Falling Figures

War

Satan Smiting Job with Boils

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