William Blake: EUROPE

William Blake, Europe: A Prophey, engraving, relief print.

Tate Britain has some themed events celebrating British artist William Blake, with the main exhibition running till 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. Their William Blake: A Live Literature Celebration last year September 20 sold out quickly so his popularity as an artist relevant to the 21st century is there to see. Attendees enjoyed an evening of music, dance, spoken word and visual imagery in the spirit of Blake’s work. So Blake fans better act quickly to ensure they don’t miss out this time.

A little more about this great artist below.

William Blake (1757-1827) 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 near Lincoln Inn Fields.

William Blake, self portrait of the artist

William Blake, self portrait.

He later became a Royal Academy student but like many notable artists of the period he rebelled against this powerful institution’s principles and 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 quattrocentro artists (1400-1499) 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

In light of the upcoming Brexit deadline on Jan 31st, below is a Blake painting titled Europe: A Prophecy. Perhaps filled with foreboding of the consequences of a split with Europe or is it merely timely and allegoric?

William Blake, Europe

Europe: A Prophecy

William Blake: Europe A Prophecy, poem

Europe: A Prophecy, a few verses from the engraved poem

Europe: A Prophecy

The nameless shadowy female rose from out the breast of Orc,
Her snaky hair brandishing in the winds of Enitharmon;
And thus her voice arose:
“O mother Enitharmon, wilt thou bring forth other sons?
To cause my name to vanish, that my place may not be found,
For I am faint with travail,
Like the dark cloud disburden’d in the day of dismal thunder.
My roots are brandish’d in the heavens, my fruits in earth beneath
Surge, foam and labour into life, first born and first consum’d!
Consumed and consuming!
Then why shouldst thou, accursed mother, bring me into life?
I wrap my turban of thick clouds around my lab’ring head,
And fold the sheety waters as a mantle round my limbs;
Yet the red sun and moon
And all the overflowing stars rain down prolific pains.
Unwilling I look up to heaven, unwilling count the stars:
Sitting in fathomless abyss of my immortal shrine
I seize their burning power
And bring forth howling terrors, all devouring fiery kings,
Devouring and devour├ęd, roaming on dark and desolate mountains,
In forests of eternal death, shrieking in hollow trees.
Ah mother Enitharmon!
Stamp not with solid form this vig’rous progeny of fires.
I bring forth from my teeming bosom myriads of flames,
And thou dost stamp them with a signet; then they roam abroad
And leave me void as death.
Ah! I am drown’d in shady woe and visionary joy.
.

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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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