A major exhibition that will focus on the extraordinary life and work of William Blake, the visionary artist -painter and printmaker, and revolutionary poet of the prophetic books, opens 4 December 2014, and runs through 1 March 2015, at the Ashmolean Museum University of Oxford, England. The Apprentice and Master exhibition examines three key phases in the life and work of William Blake (1757-1827) under the themes of ‘Education’, ‘Innovation’, and ‘Inspiration’.
Engravings, etchings and illuminated books are the focus of this exhibition, whose centrepiece is a recreation in exact dimensions and details of Blake’s Lambeth studio. It will examine his formation as an artist, including his apprenticeship as an engraver, and his maturity during the 1790’s when he was at the height of his powers as both an artist and revolutionary poet –Songs of Innocence, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Europe: a Prophecy are all on display. The exhibition will also explore his influence on the young artist-printmakers who gathered around him in the last years of his life, including Samuel Palmer, George Richmond and Edward Calvert.
William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, Illustration to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Pen & Watercolor on Paper, 1808, Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Boston. The serpent entwines Eve as she cradles it within her arm in a surprisingly friendly fashion, while being offered fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. While Adam stares out, as if deep in questioning thought. The fall of man, the serpent, Adam and Eve are central to Blake’s vision. In Paradise Lost, dualism is expressed through the symbol of ‘the state of human knowledge before and after eating the forbidden fruit’. The difference between an innocent knowledge of the world, in harmony with God (Universal Will), and the more complex and troubled knowledge that comes with the individual’s awareness of itself, which leads to conflict and the need for redemption. The post-lapsarian man and woman in Paradise Lost are transcendent with new knowledge, but also flawed with all that consciousness brings.
One of the most popular English artists, William Blake is still one of the least understood. His radical politics were reflected in his extraordinary technical innovations, especially in the field of printmaking and the illuminated book. This exhibition brings together more than 90 of Blake’s most celebrated works and offers new insights into his remarkable originality and influence. Opening with his apprenticeship, aged 14, to engraver James Basire, who sent him to study London’s Gothic churches, to his employment with publisher Joseph Johnson who supported Blake’s “Illuminated Printing”-innovative, fluid monotype techniques involving hand-finished watercolour, and closing with the late series of engravings for The Book of Job. In his technique, in his genius unacknowledged in his time, and in his ambition and desire, contraries unite and matter and spirit meet.