Songs of Innocence.
[London]: The Author & Printer W. Blake, .
Relief-printed etchings with added watercolor
31 illustrations on 17 leaves
Copy D, assembled ca. 1794
Bequest of Tessie Jones in memory of her father, Herschel V. Jones, 1968
This copy, printed in yellow ocher with added watercolor, was assembled for the Blakes' friends John and Anna Flaxman for their return from Italy in late 1794. It is one of the sixteen (or perhaps seventeen) copies from the original printing. The pastoral world represented by children and shepherds evokes the essence of innocence. The double-page design of Spring demonstrates Blake's artistry for combining text and image.
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 online exhibition is presented in conjunction with the exhibition William Blake's World: "A New Heaven Is Begun" on view September 11, 2009, through January 3, 2010.