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William Blake Hardcover – March 1, 2001
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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.
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Sensitive, detailed, ethereal, exceptional....12 more words needed to make this a valid review...really, buy this book....(I wonder how many potential William Blakes are busy frying their brains on their ipods, ipads and x-boxes right now?)...thankfully, we will never even notice. This book is alive with life & portrays a vivid facet of William Blake.
If you just want pictures, some of which seem quite large, this book has 250 illustrations, including 240 plates in full color. If you like descriptions of pictures, you might find yourself jumping around in the book. A large picture on page 10 is labeled: `Opposite: `Newton' 1795/c. 1805 (no. 249, detail) on page 11. After the Index on pages 296-298 is a Checklist of Works Exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on pages 299-304 provide a variety of numbers, including a catalogue number in brackets as follows:
129  Newton 1795/c. 1805 Color print finished in pen and ink and watercolor 46 x 60 (18 1/8 x 23 5/8) on paper approx. 54.5 x 76 (21 1/2 x 30) Tate; presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
The full picture is shown on page 213 with a tiny number 249 in the corner by the top margin and a description on page 212 that includes more information than above about "Signed `1795 WB inv [in monogram]' and the inscription. It is possible that the detail page 10 is about full size, showing the lower 30 cm. of a picture that is 46 cm. tall. Catalogue number 248, Sketch for Newton c. 1795 described on page 212 as being on a paper slightly smaller than standard typing paper, might not appear in this book at all. Turning back the page from 212 to pages 210-211 reveals a gigantic crawling Nebuchadnezzar 1795/c. 1805 (no. 247, detail) which is a 30 x 46 cm. (almost 12 inch by 18 inch) enlargement of less than half of a picture that was even larger 44.6 x 62 (17 5/8 x 24 3/8) originally. Pages 210-211 is almost lifesize, with a nose 2 inches long and 5 inches from the bottom of Nebuchadnezzar's lower lip to the part in his hair just above his forehead.
It is difficult to tell how many numbered pictures are not in this book. The final catalogue number 303 described as `Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion 1804 - c. 1820' on page 282 is a general reference used to cover paintings of Jerusalem plate 97 (detail) (p. 283), Plate 1 (p. 284), Plate 2 (p. 285), Plates 3, 4, 9, and 11 (p. 287), Plate 12, Plate 26 (p. 289), Plates 51, 69, 70, 84 (p. 291), Plates 92, 97, 99 (p. 293), and pages describing these 15 plates describe 7 plates from Jerusalem that are not shown.
People who are interested in reading interpretations of Blake's works will find a sponsor's forward by Stephen Deuchar on page 7, Acknowledgements and Preface by Robin Hamlyn, Christine Riding and Elizabeth Barker on pages 8-9, `William Blake: The Man' by Peter Ackroyd on pages 11-13, `Blake in His Time' by Marilyn Butler on pages 15-25, a Chronology on pages 26-28 and initials of 10 individuals indicating other authorship on page 29.
`One of the Gothic Artists' on pages 32-97 describes items up to catalogue number 96, `The Queen of Heaven in Glory.' `The Furnace of Lambeth's Vale' on pages 100-171 starts with a description of Blake's Printmaking Studio and various techniques, including a detail on page 111 shown more than 5 times the original size of the small print no. 107 There is No Natural Religion 1788/1795 Copy L shown on page 110. There is in this part a political section called "Lambeth and the Terror" on pages 152-167 which mention items of `Rex vs. Blake' catalogue numbers 208 through 210, items that are not shown. Perhaps we learn more by merely seeing no. 212, The Accusers c. 1804 Copy E on page 167, "A Scene in the Last Judgment."
Pictures are generally clear enough for the lettering by William Blake to be legible, where it is not too small, but pages have been selected without regard to the continuity of the original text. For example, Blake's comments on Swedenborg in his book THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL, Catalogue no. 127, pages 132-135, include Plate 21 and Plate 24 but not the pages between to and from which the thoughts carry over.
`Chambers of the Imagination' on pages 174-257 includes items numbered from 219 to 297 The Ancient of Days 1824? `Many Formidable Works' on pages 258-293 concludes with many plates from a few of Blake's works. No. 298 Plate 42 `The Tyger' on page 269 (upper left) is lightly colored, "Shown in profile beneath the pale blue bark of a tree trunk," (p. 268) while no. 163 Plate 42 Copy G c. 1793-1794 on page 155 shows a tree and tyger with much darker colors.
Anyone who plans to enjoy looking at the pictures more than anything else could start with this book. People who seriously study WILLIAM BLAKE must have their own reasons. Because his writings cover so much, most people could gain some knowledge of bits and pieces from a work like this.