William Blake - Key Facts

William Blake was a genius who would not be out of place at the dinner table with Michaelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci. He was gifted in art, philosophy and poetry. Bookshops and libraries now hold many books about Blake.

Portrait of William BlakeWilliam Blake was a complex person, with a subtle and intricate perception of life. Sometimes his words are crystal clear but at other times they are incomprehensible. He often wrote with symbolism, allegory and other poetic images. Blake did not apologise for the broad scope of his work or for any difficulty someone else might have with it. Indeed, in a letter to a critic he wrote:

"But you ought to know that What is Grand is necessarily obscure to Weak men. That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care."

Blake was often surrounded by controversy for his opinions and even for his artistic work, because he did not follow traditional styles and methods. He developed new techniques for printing and for colouring texts and images. He also painted in watercolour and tempera, disapproving of oil painting. Most of his earnings were from engraving. He occasionally printed from woodcuts.

Artistic work for which Blake received commissions was often of religious or philosophical nature and particularly Biblical. Earning a living was sometimes difficult for Blake, but as a totally optimistic workaholic he took most things in his stride, including bouts of serious ill health.

Blake's reputation among both scholars and the general public is now growing in leaps and bounds. In his own times, however, he was rarely treated with due respect. A man ahead of his time, he had great understanding and direct perception of the Spiritual dimension. He had no reservations about describing the essentially Divine nature of humankind or discussing his own status. But he had no affection for organised religions or for organised Christianity in particular.

Initials signed by William BlakeHe was keenly aware of the artistic and philosophical works of his peers and predecessors. He was a prolific producer of notes, sketches and written correspondence and of comments on other people's art work or philosophy. While often outspoken and unsympathetic, he was a sincere and affectionate friend.


  • Born in London on the 28th of November 1757, his early art training took place at home.
  • 1768-1772 Studied at Par's Drawing School in central London. It was near the River Thames and a walk away from the Royal Academy.
  • 1772-1779 Apprenticed as an Engraver under James Basire, near Lincoln's Inn Fields, London.
  • 1779 Began study under G.M.Moser at the Royal Academy.
  • 1782 Married Catherine Boucher, from Battersea, London. He helped to educate his wife and she helped him with his printing work.
  • 1827 He died on the 12th August. Catherine Blake died four years later.
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John Peirson - June 2002