Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognized
during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the
history of both the poetry and visual arts of the
Romantic Age. William Blake was one of
England’s greatest poets. He combined both a lofty mysticism and an
uncompromising awareness of the harsh realities of life. As a young boy
he had a most revealing vision of seeing angels in the trees.
These mystical visions returned throughout his life, leaving a profound mark on his poetry and outlook. Reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church of England, William Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American revolutions, as well as by such thinkers as Jacob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg. Despite these known influences, the singularity of William Blake's work makes him difficult to classify. The 19th century scholar William Rossetti characterized Blake as a "glorious luminary," and as "a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmised successors."
William Blake was born on November 28, 1757 in London, the third of five children. His father James was a hosier, and could only afford to give William enough schooling to learn the basics of reading and writing, though for a short time he was able to attend a drawing school run by Henry Par. William worked in his father's shop until his talent for drawing became so obvious that he was apprenticed to engraver James Basire at age 14. William Blake found the early apprenticeship rather boring, but the skills he learnt proved useful throughout his artistic life. William Blake finished his apprenticeship at age 21, and set out to make his living as an engraver. Blake found work as an engraver, joining the trade at an early age. William Blake's parents were broadly sympathetic with his artistic temperament and they encouraged him to collect Italian prints.
In 1778, William Blake became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House, near the Strand. While the terms of his study required no payment, he was expected to supply his own materials throughout the six-year period. There, William Blake rebelled against what he regarded as the unfinished style of fashionable painters such as Rubens, championed by the school's first president, Joshua Reynolds. Over time, Blake came to detest Reynolds' attitude toward art, especially his pursuit of "general truth" and "general beauty". Reynolds wrote in his Discourses that the "disposition to abstractions, to generalizing and classification, is the great glory of the human mind"; Blake responded, in marginalia to his personal copy, that "To Generalize is to be an Idiot; To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit". William Blake also disliked Reynolds' apparent humility, which he held to be a form of hypocrisy. Against Reynolds' fashionable oil painting, Blake preferred the Classical precision of his early influences, Michelangelo and Raphael.
In 1788, at the age of 31, William Blake began to experiment with relief etching, a method he would use to produce most of his books, paintings, pamphlets and, of course, his poems, including his longer 'prophecies' and his masterpiece the "Bible." The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and final products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium. Illustrations could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. William Blake then etched the plates in acid in order to dissolve away the untreated copper and leave the design standing in relief .
From 1818 William Blake started to enjoy the admiration of a group of young disciples. Blake's last years were passed in obscurity, quarreling even with some of the circle of friends who supported him. Among Blake's later artistic works are drawings and engravings for Dante's Divine Comedy and the 21 illustrations to the book of Job, which was completed when he was almost 70 years old. William Blake never shook off the poverty, in large part due to his inability to compete in the highly competitive field of engraving and his expensive invention that enabled him to design illustrations and print words at the same time. During his lifetime William Blake never made much money. It was only after his death that his genius was fully appreciated. William Blake's engravings and commissioned work drew enough money to survive, but at times he had to rely on the support of some of his close friends. The esteemed poet William Wordsworth said on the death of William Blake: "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." Blake died on August 12 1827, he was buried in an unmarked grave in a public cemetery and Bunhill Fields. After his death William Blake's influence steadily grew through the pre Raphaelites and later noted poets such as T.S.Eliot and W.B.Yeats.