Thursday, October 2, 2008

William Blake

William Rossetti, 19th century scholar, once said about William Blake, "a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known readily surmisable successors." With that said, it is obvious the distinction between illustrator and fine artist may be unable to be made.

Blake often paired illustrations with his original writings. Songs of Innocence (1789) and of Experience (1794): Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul are two books of poetry written and illustrated by Blake. The first describes innocence and joy of life advocating free love and a closer relationship with God. The latter contrastingly discusses the loss of innocence from exposure to the material world and mortal sin. Blake believed that children should not be held back from experience, rather that children should become experienced through their own discoveries. Another original writing of Blake's is The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This is a series of texts written in imitation of biblical books of prophecy expressing Blake's own intensely personal Romantic and revolutionary beliefs. Blake used etched plates to create the poetry, prose, and illustration colored by Blake and his wife Catherine. 
Blake also used his talents when others author commissioned him to illustrate their books. For
 example, Blake came to illustrate Dante's Inferno through John Linnell in 1826. The watercolors Blake managed to finish before his death in 1827, developed the poems well. Both Dante and Blake shared a disdain for materialism and the corruption of power and the collaboration between the two worked well. Blake also illustrated Original Stories from Real Life (1791) by Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest feminists.
Blake frequently did illustrations for Wollstonecraft's publisher, Joseph Johnson. Wollstonecraft and Blake shared opinions on sexual equality and marriage.

Blake was exposed to fine artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo when he first began engraving copies of drawings. He was also influenced by both the French and American Revolutions and thinkers such as Jacob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg. The strong opinions and ideas ahead of his time helped William Blake become more than just an illustrator. While a bibliography of William Blake's works defines him as an illustrator his etchings and watercolors depict the beauty and depth of a fine artist. 

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