One day in the late 1760s, when William Blake was a little boy enrolled in a London drawing school, a strange thing happened as he walked across Peckham Rye. He saw "a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars." These spirits, and a host of other creatures that peopled his fervent imagination, would later be immortalized in the engravings and poems he printed on his own press, which have placed him in the first rank of British artists and literary figures. And so it is surprising that this fine book--impeccable in every respect, from the detailed yet easy-to-follow notes on individual prints, drawings, and paintings to the quality and thoughtful presentation of the 250 reproductions--wasn't published sooner. It accompanies "William Blake," the largest-ever exhibition of the artist's works, which originated at the Tate Britain and is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through May 27, 2001.
Essays by biographer and novelist Peter Ackroyd and Romantic poetry specialist Marilyn Butler set the stage for the haunting images of powerful, accursed, and spectral figures on succeeding pages. The four sections of the book address key aspects of Blake's art. The first one focuses on the influence of Gothic style and spiritualism on his style. The second deals with Blake's life during the 1790s in the South London village of Lambeth, where he harnessed his printmaking innovations to radical political views. It is intriguing to learn how even Blake's new, typically contrary method of etching in relief was a metaphor for his belief in divinely inspired innate ideas. The third section discusses the odd characters that peopled Blake's works, and the fourth surveys his major illuminated books (including Songs of Innocence and Experience), which he created, in his words, "under the direction of Messengers from Heaven, Daily & Nightly." --Cathy Curtis
From Publishers Weekly
Editions of Blake's poetry which as an artist and printer he frequently engraved and published himself most often fail to reproduce his integral illustrations, or do so in poor enough quality as to negate the effort. This Complete edition from the Blake Trust, published last year in a Thames and Hudson hardback edition that is now out of print, should replace the b&w-only Dover edition (but not David V. Erdman's commentary therein, or his reading text The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake) for any reader. The 366 crisp color and 30 b&w reproductions here, culled from the scholarly Princeton University Press six-volume annotated set, are little short of a revelation, giving us Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, America, Milton, Jerusalem and the rest of the Blake canon in a form acceptably close, as Binder's introduction makes clear, to the way Blake wanted us to see them. Many of these works are currently hanging in a special Blake exhibition the largest ever at the Met in New York, for which the Abrams book serves as an informative and revealing catalogue. Hamlyn, a senior curator at London's Tate (where the exhibition originated), and the University of York's Phillips present prints, drawings, paintings, selections from Blake's own illuminated books and other relevant materials, such as snapshots from Blake's marvelous editions of Edward Young's Night Thoughts and Thomas Gray's Poems. Introductory essays from novelist and biographer Peter Ackroyd (Blake; T.S. Eliot) and Marilyn Butler, rector of Oxford's Exeter College, synopsize Blake's life and times, while extensive "label copy" situates each work as presented. While the visual overview is useful and some of the detail shots of larger works are compelling, poetry readers who have to choose will take the Complete. (Apr. 30)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.