William Blake, son of James Blake a hosier was born on 28th November 1757 in London. He attended school until he reached ten, and the remaining years of his education, were undertaken by his mother; Catherine Wright Armitage Blake. He grew up in a family where life centred around the Bible, maybe that is why much of his work, hinted on links to his early teachings.
Blake’s appreciation of the masters; Raphael, Michelangelo, and his own early drawings of Greek antiquities, gave him a better understanding of the classical forms.
It was during this time, he was drawn into the world of poetry.
On 4th August 1772, Blake commenced a seven year apprenticeship under engraver; James Basire.
In 1774, the young apprentice was sent to copy images from London’s Gothic Churches. Blake would spend many hours, sketching, and this helped him form his artistic style.
In 1779, aged 21, William Blake had attained the position of a professional engraver. On the 8th October, in the same year, he became a student at the Royal academy.
From his early times at the academy, Blake rebelled with the then president: Joshua Reynolds.
Reynolds championed artists like, Rubens, whilst Blake often referred to them as an unfinished style of painting. For Blake preferred the precision style of his early influences by Michelangelo and Raphael. Even though they crossed swords so to speak on many occasions, it did not stop Blake from exhibiting his works at the Royal Academy between 1780 and 1808.
Blake married Catherine Boucher on 18th August 1782, at St.Mary’s Church, Battersea. Catherine signed her name with a cross, upon the wedding contract, for she was illiterate.
Over the years that followed, Blake taught Catherine to read and write, and trained her in the art of an engraver. Her knowledge would prove invaluable to him, assisting with the printing of his works.
William Blake released Poetical Sketches in 1783.
William Blake and James Parker opened a print shop, after’s his father’s death in 1784, and worked with publisher Joseph Johnson.
In 1788, Blake started experimenting with relief etching, which he had used to produce most of his books, drawings etc.
This involved a process of writing text on copper plates with pens and brushes dipped in an acid-resistant liquid. Then the plates were treated with an acid, which dissolved the untreated copper plates, leaving the design standing.
Blake, now the inventor, had become famous for his relief etching, however much of his work was of intaglio engraving, a process which had stood the test of time.
William and Catherine’s marriage was one of devotion until his death in 1827. It is said, that on the day of William’s death. His last work that day was a portrait of his beloved wife; Catherine, promising he would be with her always. Then he died that day.
On the day of Catherine’s death in October 1831. She was heard to call out to him, she would be coming, and it would not be long before they could be together once again.
William Blake in his early years claimed to have seen visions: He saw God, put his head to the window, and another time in Peckham Rye, claimed to have seen a tree filled with angels, and angelic wings upon each bough as stars.
It is said; William experienced many visions throughout his life, often associated with religious themes. These have been an inspiration for his poetry and artistic forms.
“There was no doubt that the 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,” words spoken by William Wordsworth.
William Blake’s work has left its mark on the beat poet’s of the 1950’s -1970’s. Songwriters most influenced by his work include ; Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison of the Doors and Van Morrison.