William Blake (1757-1827)

'William Blake is distinct, and stands alone' - Walter Crane

The visionary painter and poet William Blake was born in London and sent as a boy to the Paris Drawing School in the Strand. When aged 14, he was apprenticed to James Basire, an engraver, for whom he worked until age 20. He then studied in the RA Schools, and started illustration work. He marrried Catherine Boucher in 1782. In 1784 he was able to set up his own shop to sell prints, and began to publish the long series of books of his own text and drawings. He was his own calligrapher, illuminator and miniaturist, and poet. His first book was The Songs of Innocence. He lived in Felpham, Sussex from 1800-1804, but otherwise resided in London for the rest of his life.

Blake had many followers, including Edward Calvert and Samuel Palmer. As well, Blake's work was a great source of inspiration to Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites. In his books he was the first to combine text and illustrations in an organic, harmonious manner in a mass produced book, achieving an almost medieval effect. Therefore he was the precursor of the enthusiastic page designs of 19th Century artists such as Walter Crane and William Morris. His technique of working with the line alone, in keeping with the nature of the material (wood), rather than trying to imitate other techniques by using cross-hatching or other shading effects, was revived by, among others, the Birmingham School.

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