William Blake, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, 1805-1810, Watercolor, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

William Blake, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, 1805-1810, Watercolor, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

William Blake: Vision and Void

Friday, May 9, 2014

William Blake was an artist whose unique vision defined his art. Blake was born in London, England in 1757. At age 10, he had the first of the spiritual visions which would fuel his art and writing for the rest of his life. Home schooled by devoutly religious family, Blake was heavily influenced by biblical themes. An engraver by profession, Blake also produced private books for himself and patrons. After marrying his wife, Catherine Sophia Boucher, Blake taught her reading, writing, and the craft of engraving. Catherine would become an essential partner in his professional and personal work, often helping to produce and color engravings for his books.

William Blake was an influential author, engraver, and watercolorist. Some of Blake's more popular work was taken directly from biblical themes, often as commissions. His artistic interpretations included watercolor prints and engravings of the Book of Revelations, the Book of Job, and Dante's Divine Comedy. The latter, although unfinished, has been listed among his greatest achievements. His series of paintings of “the Great Red Dragon,” based on the Book of Revelation, was an inspiration for Thomas Harris' series of novels about Dr. Hannibal Lector. The title of, and much of the imagery in, the first book was influenced directly by Blake's painting, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun.

Although his artwork followed biblical themes, Blake was shunned during his time for criticizing the church. Blake's spiritualism manifested in his own mythology which was often at odds with popular religion. William Blake was outspoken against materialism and the personal restrictions which he felt the church promoted. This is one of the reasons why Blake struggled with poverty until his death, in 1827. Although he died poor, his epic poetry and artwork is widely considered to be some of the most influential of English literature. Edward Larrissy has stated that “Blake is the Romantic writer who has exerted the most powerful influence on the twentieth century."

— Shane Hallnan

 

Shane Hallnan is an emerging museum professional.

 

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