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)
The Book of Los.
Intaglio etching, 1795 Plate 5
Three works make up the trilogy known as the Bibles of Hell. The other titles in this series are The First Book of Urizen and The Book of Ahania. This single plate is from the Book of Los, whose topic is the creation from Los's point of view. The double-column text is also characteristic of Urizen, which hangs nearby. The only complete copy of The Book of Los is in the British Museum. The Morgan has two plates—this one and plate 4—and a single plate from Ahania.
Purchased as the gift of the Thorne Family and Fellows Fund in memory of Mrs. Landon K. Thorne, 1976;PML 77019.64