William Blake

Born 1757. Died 1827.
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William Blake Biography

English poet, printmaker and painter William Blake was a crucial figure of the early Romantic period. His synthesis of serious spirituality with a deep questioning of organized religion provided the Romantic era with a prophetic figure whose oeuvre exemplified the mystical investigation of the period, though he was not recognized as a seminal figure until after his death. Even within its Modernity, his work makes reference to antiquity; he consistently acknowledged the Renaissance masters Michelangelo and Dürer in an attempt to put forth a universal Gothic Christian style.

Born in 1757 in London, England, Blake studied at the drawing academy of Henry Pars before apprenticing with the engraver James Basire, and later studying at the Royal Academy. Even at school, Blake exuded a rebellious spirit, openly criticizing the Academy’s president, Joshua Reynolds. Blake turned to relief etching prints and engravings for many of his works, producing mysterious, dream like imagery with dark figures and staunch contrasts that explore the universal mysteries of human existence. His works presented amalgams of vaguely Christian references, sculptural figures reminiscent of Renaissance paintings and dark, brooding characters with ambiguous intentions. His works garnered both admiration and disdain; some viewed his imaginative works as creative and introspective, while others criticized his seemingly blasphemous or shocking imagery.

Since Blake’s death, artists, poets and psychologists have revised the general understanding of his works; American singer and songwriter Patti Smith edited an anthology of Blake’s work in 2007, has performed his poetry and has given lectures on his career, while psychoanalyst June Singer has reassessed Blake’s ambition to synthesize mind and spirit in his later works. His system of symbols and allegory have been put to use by various movements and groups since his death, including the nineteenth century “free love” movement, while the Beat poets of the 1950s and ’60s consistently made reference to Blake’s work. Blake’s artworks can be found in major museums around the world including the Tate Gallery, London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Art Institute and Chicago, among others.

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Artist Image: © National Portrait Gallery, London