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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

William Blake

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William Blake: Nov. 28,1757-Aug. 12,1827...England

"The true method of knowledge is experiment."
~William Blake

One of the unique artists that we cover is the great Romantic poet and artist, William Blake. He was born the third of five children to Catherine Wright and James Blake, who sold clothing supplies. When he was in his youth he began speaking of visions of angels. He never outgrew these visions. He started attended Henry Pars’ drawing school in 1767 where he focused on figure drawing. He was also an accomplished young writer, producing his first book of poetry at the age of twelve. As a hobby in his youth, he began collecting cheep art prints. Prints of Raphael Sanzio, Albrecht Dürer, and Michelangelo works were the favorites in his collection. "Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death." If anyone claimed their new style was better than these Renaissance masters, Blake would accuse them of speaking out for the destruction of art. In his eyes, none were better than these masters of the past. He had a lot of respect for the Renaissance, as well as the Gothic style. He soon apprenticed under engraver James Basire. There he became knowledgeable on the art of copperplate engraving. He moved on to work as a copy engraver to illustrate printed books. Wanting to move to new art medias, Blake took classes at the Royal Academy of Art’s Schools of Design in 1779. At the school, Peter Paul Rubens was more highly regarded than the stiff Renaissance artists. “These things that you call finished are not even begun,” Blake later recalled. It was at the school that Blake developed a life-long hatred for Sir Joshua Reynolds and his new academic tradition.

Throughout the time of artistic study and production, he was still writing. We see his distinct political and artistic ideas in a new way in his writings. His companion through these years was Catherine Boucher, whom he married in 1782. A couple years later Blake set up a paint and print shop in London, England. This was a huge flop. Eventually, Blake was creating illustrated books that fused mythology, religion, history, and current issues. He was also creating illustrations for other writers. But after some time, Blake began to resent the fact that he was compromising his work for that of other people. His mental stability was becoming less stable. On one occasion he found a drunk soldier was on his property. Blake asked him to leave but the soldier refused. Blake did what he thought was right; he fought him off his property. Blake was then charged with assault as well as acting out against the King. The penalty was severe for this sort of thing. Being a known person he was acquitted of the charges, but his mental health suffered from the stress. He was unsuccessful in exhibiting his artwork and work was hard to find.

Blake’s work was unlike most of his time. He worked on a small scale, only a few inches tall and wide, but each had an enormous amount of detail. As is stereotypical, he received much of his success after his death. He was a strong believer in an artists knowledge of the physical world and their attempt to be observant of all things; "The man who never in his mind and thoughts travel'd to heaven is no artist."

Although without high success, he was friends with the upper crust of the English in-crowd. But at the same time was an odd outsider. He was firm on his beliefs for equality for all, including women and blacks. This was a quite uncommon opinion for such a high status person of that time. Why would he express such strong opinions that were so unpopular? "When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do." He was also vocal of his dislike of the effects of the Industrial Revoulution in England. A true Romantic, Blake dismissed the scientific and industrial advancements of his time.

Life was turbulent at this period for Blake. In 1818 he met friend, patron, and landscape painter, John Linnell. He had plugged Blake into a network of patrons that he desperately needed. The pair had an understanding that Blake did not have with others that saw him as a crazy person: “I never saw anything the least like madness” Linnell recalled. Although this is true, generally Blake‘s friends thought he was insane. It is also true that Blake said, "To generalize is to be an idiot." Linnell was in part responsible for Blake finishing two of his last great illustration texts: Book of Job from the Bible and Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Blake created twenty one watercolor illustrations based upon Job’s text between 1823 and 1825. He also created 102 watercolor illustrations from the Divine Comedy. Though he was ill, he continued to work until the end of his life. He died at home and placed in an unmarked grave in Bunhill Fields in London. Poet, William Wordsworth, who spoke at his funeral said, "There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott."

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Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063