William Blake, born November 28, 1757, in London, was a poet, engraver, and painter.
He was first educated at home, and in 1767 was sent to Henry Pars' drawing school
London, where for four years he drew copies of plaster casts of ancient sculptures.
This was followed by an apprenticeship as an engraver with James Basire, an engraver
to the London Society of Antiquaries. During his apprenticeship, Blake was sent
make drawings of monuments and tombs in Westminster, where he acquired a taste
Gothic art. In 1779, Blake began studies as an engraving student at the Royal
Academy, where he associated with the sculptor John Flaxman and the painters Thomas
Stothard and Henri Fuseli. Blake painted from his imagination, which was stimulated
from an early age by visions of angels, monks, and various historical figures.
In 1782, Blake married Catherine Boucher. He taught her to draw and paint and she
became his assistant. With his wife and younger brother Robert, Blake opened a
shop in 1784. In 1787 Robert Blake died, and afterwards William Blake had a vision
in which his brother revealed to him a new technique of relief etching by which
and illustration could be printed from one plate. The following year Blake used
new technique as he began work on The Songs of
Innocence, which he completed and hand-produced with his wife in 1789.
Most of Blake's works after this time were printed with this method and were issued
in small editions.
In 1791, Blake moved to Lambeth where he started work on the "prophetic books," which
dealt with the soul's struggle between the freedom of its natural energies on
hand and reason and organized religion on the other. In October 1793 Blake published
a prospectus, To the Public, which advertised his
recent illuminated books: The Marriage of Heaven and
Hell, The Visions of the Daughters of
Albion, and America, A Prophecy. These
were soon followed by The Book of Urizen (1794),
The Songs of Experience (1794), Europe, a Prophecy (1794), and The Song of Los (1795). His illustrations started to become larger, and
more color was being used. Blake began creating paintings, and in 1795 he produced
series of twelve large watercolor prints.
Blake started receiving some commissions during this time: from Richard Edwards in
1796 to illustrate Edward Young's The Complaint and the
Consolation, or Night Thoughts (1797); from his friend John Flaxman, in
about 1801, to produce a set of watercolor designs to be bound with Flaxman's
of Thomas Gray's Poems (1790); and from Thomas Butts
to create a series of paintings on biblical themes (1799-1805). Then in 1800 he
invited by the poet William Hayley to live at Hayley's estate at Felpham in Sussex,
where Blake stayed for three years. Hayley commissioned a number of works from
Blake, including the illustrations for Hayley's Little Tom
the Sailor (1800), and the engravings for his Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper (1803), and his Ballads on Anecdotes Relating to Animals (1805). By 1802
Blake had become weary of the obligations related to his residency at Hayley's
estate, and in 1803 he returned to London. Here he continued work begun at Felpham
on Milton: a Poem in 2 Books (1804-1808) and started
work on his last illuminated book, Jerusalem
In May 1809, Blake held a one-man exhibition in his brother James' hosiery shop, but
the exhibit attracted little attention. In the following years Blake became
relatively obscure, and received just enough engraving work to barely support
himself and his wife, but he did continue with his own work.
Blake began to develop a following in the 1820s after obtaining the support of the
painter John Linnell. Linnell commissioned a series of watercolor designs to be
published as engravings from Dante's Divine Comedy
(of which only seven were engraved at the time of Blake's death) and a set of
watercolors and engravings, Illustrations of the Book of
Job (1826), which were based on watercolors that Blake created earlier
for Thomas Butts. Linnell also found other commissions for Blake, and introduced
artist to a circle that included Samuel Palmer, Edward Calvert, George Richmond,
Frederick Tatham, and others who would later call themselves the Ancients, and
whom Blake was a hero and great influence. Blake died August 12, 1827, in