William Blake was an English artist and poet best known for his literary works, which have perhaps drawn attention away from his achievements in the visual arts. Despite this, one art critic has described him as “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced” (Jonathan Jones for The Guardian). Although not widely known during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the Romantic Period, championing the power of human creativity, and opposing the rationalism and mechanistic lifestyles which he saw as the downfall of man. The romantic period was a movement that responded to industrialization and attempted to improve man through reverence for the human spirit and the natural world.
Blake's works were almost all based on narrative, primarily being illustrations or illuminations of written works. Blake made use of monotypes and monoprints, and also hand colored a large amount of his work. Much of his work is tied to the mythology that he had created, in which human creativity is essentially God itself. Below is a hand colored engraving titled Albion Rose, featuring Albion, a character in his works that represents the perfect man.
Blake produced mainly etchings and engravings, focusing on relief etching, a process that he invented, in creating his illuminated books. In this method, the images were painted on using a ground, including the words of his poems and the accompanying illuminations, and then the negative space would be dissolved in the acid, leaving a relief surface. An example of one such etching (hand colored) can be seen below.
Blake was trained as an engraver, and although he is better known for his relief etching, most of his commercial work was done in engraving. Some of his personal work, such as the illustrations for “The book of Job”, a series of 22 prints illustrating the biblical Book of Job, was produced through engraving. One of these engravings is pictured below.
His invention of relief etching is the work that he is most known for, as it is the most innovative. While he made a good deal of work in engraving, his training in engraving was of a style that had become old fashioned, and so his engraving was less well received than a lot of his other works. Still, he is one good example of a historical printmaker who used printmaking as a tool rather than a process, using etching, engraving, and painting, together with his mastery of the English language in order to achieve his conceptual goals. Thus, he cemented his place in the canon of both English Literary and Western Visual history.
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