William Blake

Dates1757 - 1827
RolesArtist, Author

For Blake, art was visionary, not intellectual. He believed that the arts offered insights into the metaphysical world and could potentially redeem a humanity fallen into materialism and doubt. His belief that imagination is the artist's critical filter indicated the dawn of Romanticism, but his peers failed to recognize his genius until his later years. A hosiery salesman's son, Blake trained by attending drawing school in London in 1767, apprenticing to an engraver, and enrolling in the Royal Academy's school in 1779. During the 1780s Blake worked as a commercial engraver and publishing his poems at home. With his wife's assistance, he printed the combined illustration and text from one plate and colored the illustrations by hand or printed the colors over the black outlines. He also bound and sold his own volumes, including Songs of Innocence of 1788 and its sequel, Songs of Experience of 1794. Blake worked in pen, watercolor, and a kind of tempera but rejected oil painting.In the 1820s, he became the center of a group of younger English artists who shared his religious seriousness, including Samuel Palmer. One of these artists commissioned him to create two series of large watercolors, one inspired by the Book of Job and one by Dante's Divine Comedy.