William Blake Biography
William Blake was one of the most enigmatic poets and painters of the Romantic era. A visionary artist and mystic, Blake was influenced by a range of movements and ideas, ranging from Neoplatonism and Swedenborgianism to the French Revolution and British Radicalism.
His works, such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience, have captivated readers and art historians for centuries and remain some of the most iconic works of Romantic poetry.
In this blog post, we will take a look at 10 facts about William Blake and his life, art, and legacy.
William Blake Early Life and Family
William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757. He was the son of a London hosier, James Blake. He was raised in a large, working-class family with nine siblings, and his parents were devout Presbyterians.
At the age of ten, he was enrolled at Henry Pars’ drawing school, where he showed an aptitude for art and literature.
Blake was considered a prodigy when it came to both visual arts and literature.
He attended the Royal Academy of Arts from 1779 to 1780 and apprenticed as an engraver with James Basire. His apprenticeship gave him insight into the publishing industry, which he would use to great effect later in life.
In 1782, Blake married Catherine Boucher, an illiterate woman whom he taught to read and write. The two had eight children together, but only one survived infancy.
His marriage to Catherine was a happy one, and they shared a strong bond that lasted until Blake’s death.
William Blake Education
William Blake received his education at the small dame school at London, from 1767 to 1778, where he learned reading, writing, and simple arithmetic.
From there he studied engraving at Henry Basire’s studio for several years, where he developed a strong knowledge of art and literature.
Blake was an autodidact and he read widely from the works of classical authors such as Homer, Virgil, Dante, Ovid and Milton.
He was also interested in mathematics and studied Euclid with Samuel Palmer. Blake was taught French by his younger brother Robert and by a French teacher at the school he attended.
He also studied Latin and Ancient Greek.
Blake’s passion for art and literature led him to create his own works, which he often wrote and illustrated himself.
He created many masterpieces throughout his lifetime, including Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Book of Urizen, Milton, and Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
William Blake First Publications
William Blake first achieved recognition with the publication of his book Songs of Innocence in 1789. This collection of poetry was highly praised, and established Blake’s reputation as an imaginative genius.
In 1794, he followed up this success with a second volume of poems, entitled Songs of Experience. The two volumes combined to form the complete work, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which was lauded for its originality and the profundity of its ideas.
In addition to his poetic works, Blake also wrote several plays, as well as political tracts on topics such as the French Revolution and British Parliamentary reform.
He also created a series of illuminated works in which he combined words and images to express complex spiritual ideas.
These included The Book of Urizen, The Book of Los and America: A Prophecy. All these works were published between 1794 and 1808.
William Blake Later Life and Work
William Blake was a prolific artist, poet, and engraver throughout his life. He continued to work until his death in 1827.
During this period, he produced some of his most famous works such as Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
He also wrote some of his best-known poems, including “The Tyger” and “Ah Sunflower.”
In 1821, Blake received a commission from the publisher John Linnell to paint a series of watercolour illustrations for his own epic poem, Milton: A Poem in Two Books. He completed the series in 1827, shortly before his death.
During his later years, Blake also worked on the illuminated manuscript, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804–20).
This work took him five years to complete, and it was one of his most ambitious projects. It featured complex illustrations of Biblical scenes, along with lengthy written passages.
Although Blake’s work was largely overlooked during his lifetime, he had a devoted circle of friends and admirers who appreciated his innovative art and poetry.
After his death, Blake’s reputation slowly began to grow as scholars and other artists started to recognise the genius of his work.
Today, William Blake is considered to be one of the most important figures in Romanticism and English literature.
William Blake Marriages
William Blake married Catherine Boucher on August 18, 1782 at St. Mary’s Church in Battersea, England. Catherine was illiterate and had to make her mark on the marriage certificate rather than signing her name.
This was a supportive and creative union; Catherine took an interest in Blake’s printing and helped him with some of his work. William and Catherine had no children.
In addition to his marriage to Catherine, Blake is believed to have had several relationships with other women over the course of his life.
In 1793, he struck up a friendship with the artist and poet Anna Barbauld and, in 1795, he began a relationship with the artist and poet Flaxman’s sister-in-law, Mary Butts.
During this period of his life, Blake was also involved with Mary Wollstonecraft and is believed to have been in love with her.
William Blake Net Worth
William Blake’s net worth is difficult to estimate due to the lack of available records and information on his life and finances.
However, it is generally assumed that he was not wealthy at any point in his life. Despite having worked as an engraver, bookseller, and poet, he struggled to make ends meet and had to rely on patrons such as John Flaxman and Thomas Butts for financial assistance.
His most successful publications, Poetical Sketches and Songs of Innocence and of Experience, were both published in 1794 and 1795 respectively.
Although these works earned him some money, it is unlikely that it was significant enough to make him wealthy.
Similarly, his paintings were often sold at low prices, making it unlikely that they contributed significantly to his net worth.
It is thought that William Blake’s net worth was largely dependent upon the support of his patrons and friends. Therefore, it is likely that his net worth was very modest during his lifetime.
Unfortunately, there is no way to determine a more exact figure for his net worth.
William Blake Death
William Blake died on August 12, 1827 in London at the age of 69. He had been ill for some time and was in poverty during his later years.
He died a relatively unknown figure, though he would later be recognised as one of the leading figures in British Romanticism and an important figure in world literature and art.
His body was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in a Dissenters’ burial ground in Bunhill Fields. In 1954, a memorial plaque was placed on the site of his grave to commemorate his life and work.
Although Blake’s work had not yet been widely appreciated during his lifetime, some contemporaries noted his death with sorrow.
Poet William Wordsworth said, “There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott.”
Though Blake died without the recognition he deserved, his legacy lives on through his works.
Today, he is remembered as a poet, painter, engraver and visionary who profoundly influenced other great Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
His unique style, originality and uncompromising vision continue to inspire new generations of artists and writers.
William Blake Selected Honours
William Blake has been remembered as one of the most influential and enigmatic artists in history. He has been honoured with numerous awards, honors, and memorials that stand as a testament to his work.
In 2008, Blake was commemorated on the British two-pound coin. He is also featured in the William Blake Literary Walk, which passes through London and celebrates his life and works.
His legacy is also honored at the William Blake Gallery in London, which displays a variety of original and reproduction prints, paintings, manuscripts, and other artifacts from his life and career.
Blake’s influence can be seen in various forms of modern art and literature.
He is referenced in songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and Tori Amos, while his artwork is included in the collections of several renowned museums such as the Tate Britain and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
The University of Oxford awards an annual William Blake Prize to recognize the best poetry written by an undergraduate student.
Additionally, the University of Kent houses the Blake Archive, a digital collection of Blake’s original works and writings.
Finally, The William Blake Society was founded in 2005 to promote interest and research into his life and works. The society hosts an annual lecture series in honour of Blake and organizes various exhibitions around the world to further celebrate his legacy.