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Introductionto William Blake

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  • 1. Introduction to William Blake
    • William Blake moved to Lambeth in 1790, with Catherine his wife. He was 33 years old and the next ten years when he stayed at 13 Hercules Buildings (now Hercules Rd) were arguably the most productive of his life.
  • 2. Life in London
    • Blake grew up in crowded Westminster where he served an apprenticeship as an engraver. In 1790, recently-married, he crossed the new-built Westminster Bridge to a new South London suburb – Lambeth.
  • 3. Contemporaries of William Blake
    • London in the late 1780s was a place of French-inspired revolution and Blake moved in political and potentially dangerous circles. Through the radical bookseller Joseph Johnson he met Tom Paine, author of The Rights of Man and the feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, one of whose books he illustrated.
    Tom Paine Mary Wollstonecraft
  • 4. What was going on in France
    • The impact of the Revolution in France on radicals in London was immense. Blake wore the red cap of ‘Liberty’ around the streets and wrote a long and incomplete poem, ‘The French Revolution’.
  • 5. Lambeth 1790
    • Lambeth was at a point of change. The riverside village still had fields running down to the river. To the south places like Kennington and Stockwell were still all market gardens and fields
    Lambeth Palace in 1790
  • 6. Maps of Lambeth 1755 & 1828 showing the rapid change from countryside to city
  • 7. Lambeth 1790
    • But many new and inexpensive houses were being built and the old village centre of Lambeth was rapidly becoming an industrial slum.
    • This was the contradictory place that Blake moved to in 1790.
    Fore Street Lambeth, now covered by the Albert Embankment
  • 8. Hercules Buildings and it surrounds
    • William and Catherine moved to a new-built terrace house between Lambeth and Westminster Bridge Roads. It was cheaper than Westminster yet large enough to contain Blake’s printing press
  • 9. Bedlam, Orphanages and Houses of correction
    • Land was cheap and Lambeth became home to charitable institutions like the Lying In Hospital, the Magdalen Home for Prostitutes and the Orphan Asylum.
    • The victims of these institutions started to populate Blake’s poetry
  • 10. The Artisan Engraver
    • Blake had trained as an engraver. He worked for authors and booksellers to produce engraved illustrations, like this for his friend J G Stedman’s book about the slave revolt in Surinam. Later commissions included illustrations to Dante and the Book of Job
  • 11. The Artist
    • But Blake was a man with his own intensely personal artistic vision.
    • His colour prints and relief etched books of illustrations combine line, colour and language in a way that no single practitioner had previously been able to do.
    ‘Newton’, colour print, 1795
  • 12. The Poet
    • Blake was a poet and some of his early work was published. But his extraordinary visions and the closed and personal nature of much of his writing meant that he had to publish his own work.
    • Every house a den, every man bound; the shadows are filld
    • With spectres, and the windows wove over with curses of iron:
    • Over the doors Thou shalt not; & over the chimneys Fear is written
    • From ‘Europe’, published by Blake in Lambeth, 1794
  • 13. An independent Inventor
    • While at Lambeth Blake’s crowning achievement was discovering how to unite the disciplines of poet, artist and engraver.
    • Here he developed his extraordinary ‘Illuminated Books’ in which he wrote, designed, relief-etched, printed, coloured, bound and sold his work.
    ‘London’ from The Songs of Experience, 1795
  • 14. Catherine Blake
    • Blake’s wife, Catherine Boucher, came from Battersea where the Blakes were married in 1782.
    • Catherine supported Blake through all his projects, helping with the colouring and printing of many of his books.
  • 15. The fall and rise of Blake’s reputation
    • Unknown beyond his friends in his life. Considered to be ‘mad’ in old age. Died in poverty in 1827.
    • Only ‘discovered’ 30 years later when his poems and a biography were published
    • The lyric ‘Jerusalem’, set as a hymn in 1916, adopted as an anthem of Englishness.
    • Hugely influential on writers, musicians and artists in the 20 th Century; e.g. Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison
  • 16. Why is he relevant to us today?
    • Poems like ‘London’, ‘The Tyger’ and ‘Poison Tree’ still speak directly to new audiences.
    • His images are part of a universal iconography that we share.
    • His imagination continues to enthral us.
    He who binds to himself a joy, does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise ‘ Eternity’, 1793
  • 17. The William Blake Heritage Project
    • Making sure people know
    • Involving the community
    • Regenerating Lambeth
    • Attracting visitors
    • Respecting a great poet & artist
  • 18. Project Outline
    • What: Making mosaics and uncovering Blake’s life in Lambeth
    • Where: St Johns Crypt, 73 Waterloo Rd, London SE1 8UD Tel: 020 7620 6070
    • When: from now until November 2008
    • How: being trained by artists to make mosaic
    • Why: To celebrate Lambeth’s most famous artist & poet