Considered one of the greatest poets and printmakers in British history, William Blake was an English poet, painter and printmaker who remained largely unknown during his lifetime but rose to prominence about half a century after his death. Here are 10 interesting facts about this radical writer and artist.
#1 He wanted to be an artist since childhood
Born in London on November 28, 1757, William Blake was the third of seven children of James Blake, who owned a hosiery shop, and Catherine Wright Blake. William attended school only till the age of ten after which he was educated at home by his mother. He wanted to be an artist from an early age and when he was 10 his parents, realizing his talent, enrolled him in Henry Pars’s Drawing School in London.
#2 His entire life, Blake earned his living through engraving
At the age of 14, after attending drawing school, William began a 7-year apprenticeship to English engraver James Basire. At the end of the term, aged 21, he became a professional engraver and it was through engraving that he earned his living throughout his life. Blake’s early engravings were copies of designs of other artists but later he established his reputation and received commissions to engrave his own designs.
#3 His most famous engravings are Illustrations of the Book of Job
Although his career as an engraver could never take him out of poverty, today Blake’s engravings rank among the greatest triumphs of line engravings in England. His twenty-two engraved Illustrations for the Book of Job are considered to be his greatest masterpieces in the medium of engraving. They were also a rare commercial and critical success for him.
#4 He had a successful marriage with Catherine Sophia Boucher
William Blake married Catherine Sophia Boucher on August 18, 1782 in St Mary’s Church, Battersea. As she was illiterate, Catherine signed her wedding contract with an X. Blake taught his wife to read and write. He even taught her engraving and she proved to be an invaluable aid to him in various works. Catherine believed in Blake’s genius and stood by him throughout. Their marriage is considered to be successful.
#5 William Blake died on 12 August 1827
In 1826, Blake received a commission to illustrate for Dante’s Divine Comedy. The assignment was cut short due to Blake’s death but it is still considered one of his best works in the field. On the day he died Blake drew a portrait of his wife who was in tears by his bedside. William Blake breathed his last at 6 in the evening on 12 August 1827. He was buried five days later on the eve of his 45th wedding anniversary.
#6 He claimed to experience visions throughout his life
Blake claimed to experience visions throughout his life. When he was four years old he screamed when he saw God “put his head to the window”. At the age of 10, he saw “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.” When his brother Robert, with whom he was very close, died, Blake saw his “released spirit ascend heavenward through the matter-of-fact ceiling, ‘clapping its hands for joy,'”.
#7 William Blake is famous for relief etching
Relief etching or illuminated printing was invented by William Blake to print texts and images together. He used illuminated printing for most of his well-known works, including Songs of Innocence and of Experience; The Book of Thel; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; and Jerusalem. Blake is most famous for creating illuminated poetry by using this technique.
#8 His most famous poem is The Tyger
Although Blake’s profession was engraving and his chief hobby was painting in watercolours, today he is more famous for his poems. Blake wrote poetry since his teens. His most famous poem is The Tyger which was part of his poetry collection Songs of Experience. Also, the preface to his epic poem Milton: A Poem in Two Books includes the lyric commonly called “Jerusalem” that has become a kind of alternative national anthem in Britain.
#9 Blake is considered a forerunner to the Free Love Movement
William Blake’s works are considered a part of the Romantic Movement which emphasized on emotion and intuition. Influence of the ideals and ambitions of French and American Revolutions can also be seen in his work. His works also criticized marriage laws and external demands to marital fidelity which reduced love to mere duty instead of authentic affection. Due to this he is considered a forerunner to the Free Love Movement which called for end of state interference in sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery.
#10 William Blake was placed 38 in BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons
During his life Blake was considered insane and was mostly unknown except to a few friends and faithful patrons. Interest in his work grew in the mid-19th century and by the 20th century he was held in high esteem for the profound, philosophical, creative and mystical elements in his works. Today William Blake is regarded as one of the finest artists and poets in Britain’s history. In 2002, he was placed 38 in BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.