William Blake: LONDON

Tate Britain has announced a series of art events celebrating British artist William Blake, with the main exhibition running 11 September 2019 – 2 February 2020. There’s also a William Blake & Lunch two course meal at the Rex Whistler Restaurant for those seeking dining options after their gallery visit. The William Blake: A Live Literature Celebration on September 20 is already sold out with attendees promised an evening of music, dance, spoken word and visual imagery in the spirit of Blake’s work.

A little more about this great artist below.

William Blake was a poet, painter and printmaker who lived and worked in London all his life, and wrote his poem ‘London’ (below) about his home city. He was a headstrong and progressive thinker who would never settle comfortably at conventional schools so his parents enrolled him at Pars drawing school in The Strand. By the age of 15, he had committed to a seven year apprenticeship with the prestigious engraver James Basire based in Great Queen Street.

He later became a Royal Academy student but like many prominent artists who would make their own mark in history he rebelled against this powerful institution’s principles as espoused by its president Joshua Reynolds. During this period of art history, the ‘unfinished painting’ look had become fashionable. Reynolds loved the style of Flemish baroque painter Rubens whose drawings were vigorous and expressive without too much detail but Blake preferred the artistic precision of Italian artist Raphael. Interestingly, the Pre-Raphaelite movement which came after Blake sought the even greater artistic detail of the artists who pre-dated Raphael but, nonetheless, were Blake fans with William Rossetti describing him as a ‘glorious luminary.’

As he developed his own style his work often dealt with challenging biblical and prophetic themes, although he was not a fan of the Church of England and other established religions. By 1826, he had produced a hand-painted first edition of his poem London. In 1965 this same poem would be set to an orchestral composition by Benjamin Britten who honoured it in his Songs and Proverbs of William Blake.

London

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

 

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Eddie Saint-Jean

Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts reviewer with a background in art theory, film and theatre.

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