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William Blake

Born: London, 28 November 1757
Died: London, 12 August 1827
Nationality: English

son of a knitwear salesman


drawing school of Henry Pars (1767-72); apprenticed to engraver James Basire (1772-79); Royal Academy (1779-80)


1783 –John Flaxman helps finance publication of Blake’s Poetical Sketches

1785 – exhibits Story of Joseph (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), a series of three watercolors, at the RA

1787 –begins developing relief etching to self publish his illuminated prints

1791 – illustrates Mary Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories from Real Life; joins politically progressive circle of publisher Joseph Johnson along  with Wollstonecraft and Heinrich Fuseli

1793-95 – produces series of illuminated prophetic books

1800-03 – Flaxman arranges work as assistant to poet William Hayley

1809-10 –retrospective exhibition in Blake’s childhood home

Commissions from: 

Thomas Butts, John Linnell

Important Artworks: 

Songs of Innocence, 1789 (illuminated book)

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1789 (illuminated book)

Songs of Experience, 1794 (illuminated book)

Europe:  A Prophecy, 1794 (illuminated book)

The Ancient of Days, 1794 (British Museum, London)

Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804-20 (illuminated  book)

Milton: A Poem in 2 Books, 1804-09 (illuminated book) 



Blake was profoundly influenced by the ideas of J.J. Winckelmann, whom he discovered through his friend, the artist Heinrich Füseli: 

"Blakes sustained use of the ideal nude, which he felt was prerequisite for his and for all art, illustrates the profundity of his attachment to the Classical tradition. Its potency and glory...received special impetus in Blake's time through the writings of J.J. Winckelmann (1717-1768), the prophet of Neo-Classicism. From the days of his apprenticeship, Blake owned a copy of Winckelmann's influential first essay, Reflections on the Imitation of Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks. That evangelical treatise, a declaration that helped to establish the modern religion of aesthetics, had been translated in 1765 by the Anglo-Swiss painter-theorist Henry Fuseli (1744-1825), Blake's friend, resource, and admirerer, a mentor of sorts and a kindred spirit dedicated to a firey and daemonic Romantic classicism. Winckelmann's theories exerted a profound influence on Blake's art. Blake's figures literally realize the Neo-Platonic ideals and perscriptions for beauty advocated by the Prusso-Italian apostate and rhapsodist. In praising his own nudes in The Ancient Britons, shown in his independent exhibition of 1809, the mature Blake still parroted the arguments of Winckelmann concerning the salutary effects of climate, health, naturalism, and nudity enjoyed by the ancients and nt by clothed, corrupted, and lifeless moderns..."

Seymour Howard, "William Blake: The Antique, Nudity, and Nakedness: A Study in Idealism and Regression," Artibus et Historiae, vol. 3, no. 6 (1982), 121-2.