William Blake

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William Blake   British poet, illustrator, draughtsman, engraver, writer and visionary. He completed (1779) his 7-year apprenticeship as an engraver with James Basire, and engraving remained his basic livelihood. Blake also studied for a brief time at the R.A. In 1783 he married Catherine Boucher, his beloved and constant companion. Friends such as the sculptor Flaxman supported the publication of Poetical Sketches (1783) but after Sony of Innocence (1789) Blake printed his own works by a process (duplicated in experiments by Ruthven Todd, S. W. Hayter and Joan Miro) of relief etching of the text and the surrounding design, printing in coloured inks often with retouching in paint. Another very successful technique was colour printing by superimposed impressions from millboard.

Blake lived mainly in London, but between 1800 and 1803 worked at Felpham, the estate of William Hayley, for whom Blake was engraving some poems. While he was at Felpham an argument with a soldier brought Blake on trial on a sedition charge, but he was acquitted. The poverty of his last years was relieved by the discipleship of such young painters as Palmer and Calvert, and commissions from another young friend, John Linnell, for Blake's engravings of Illustrations of the Book of Job (1825) and 100-odd watercolours to Dante's Divine Comedy. All Blake's work is infused with his intense imagination and visionary experiences; he claimed regular visits from heavenly emissaries. The powerful images of his engravings and paintings display his admiration of Michelangelo (e.g. in their distorted anatomy), Raphael and Durer; but he rejected the academic traditions represented by Reynolds and the R.A. and the Venetian colourists, as at once too vague and too material. His rebellion against accepted contemporary artistic theories parallels his political radicalism and religious unorthodoxy. He rejoiced in the French and American revolutions and his spiritual explorations, and his disgust with injustice and hypocrisy strengthened by his contacts with the radical circle of Paine and Godwin, are reflected in the prose satire The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-3), the poem coll. Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789-94), and such poems as The French Revolution and America, a Prophecy (1793). In Blake's religious system, God is a vengeful terrible power (Urizen); Jesus the embodiment of humanity (Ore); and the virtues which derive from the human principle in its fullest and highest manifestation are Los, the male, Enitharmon, the female. Blake's works include the long poems Milton (1840-8) and Jerusalem, The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804; the verse prophetic books The Everlasting Gospel (c. 1818), the Book of Thel (1789), The Song of Los and Vala or the Four Zoas (1797-1804).

Source: The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists (World of Art)

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