William Blake (1757–1827) occupies a unique place in the history of Western art. His creativity included both the visual and literary arts. In his lifetime he was best known as an engraver; now he is also recognized for his innovative poetry, printmaking, and painting. Blake's keen perception of the political and social climate found expression throughout his work. His strong sense of independence is evident in the complex mythology that he constructed in response to the age of revolution.
Blake was already recognized as an engraver at age twenty-five, when his first volume of poems appeared. At thirty-three, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, he audaciously claimed that his birth had marked the origin of a "new heaven" in which his own art would exemplify the creativity prefigured by Milton and Michelangelo. By that time, Blake, in one of his most productive periods, had already produced Songs of Innocence and was at work on a series of illuminated books. In 1818 he met John Linnell, a young painter and engraver, through whom a group of young artists became Blake's followers. Calling themselves the Ancients, they helped perpetuate Blake's influence for generations.
The Morgan's Blake collection—one of this country's most distinguished—began with purchases as early as 1899 by Pierpont Morgan. During the tenure of Charles Ryskamp, director from 1969 to 1986, major gifts almost doubled the size of its Blake holdings. In recent years Ryskamp's own gifts of engravings, letters, and related materials have significantly enriched its scholarly resources.
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Fay and Geoffrey Elliott.
William Blake (1757–1827)
Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion.
[London]: Printed by W. Blake, S[outh] Molton St., 1804. Relief and white line etching
100 plates, created between 1804 and 1820
Copy F, printed about 1827
The longest, and last, of Blake's illuminated books was Jerusalem. As its title page shows, it was begun in 1804, but no copy was issued prior to about 1820. This copy had been printed but not collated when Blake died in 1827. It is one of six he is known to have produced, only two of which were colored.
The figure of the London night watchman on the frontispiece is Los, who represents creative imagination in the material world. At lower left Jerusalem (the female figure of humanity, often signifying liberty) rests upon her six diaphanous wings; the fairies and insects above symbolize freedom.
Purchased with the Toovey collection, 1899; PML 953