William Blake - The Creative Enigma of Georgian England

Blake is an artist who is superficially familiar but whose intentions are largely an enigma to most. Almost unknown in his lifetime, it was believed by his closest artist friends that he would be posthumously recognised as a unique “Michelangelo” of his age. Described as the embodiment of Romanticism, yet he drew in a linear style, whose origins lay in Neoclassical simplicity. Blake saw the personal Nonconformist piety he was born into, mirrored in the imagination that he believed gave him direct access to an eternal realm of aesthetic truth. This belief, related as it was to his visions, fluctuated over his lifetime. Discover an artist, who comes more clearly into focus, when seen within the context of the competing cultural forces that were at work in his time.


  • Face-to-Face


  • Ackroyd, P, (1996), Blake, Minerva, ISBN 139780679409670
  • Barrell, J, (1995), The Political Theory of Painting: From Reynolds to Hazlitt, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300063554
  • Bentley, G.E., (2001), The Stranger From Paradise, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300100302
  • Bindman, D, (2001), William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books, Thames and Hudson, ISBN 139780500282458
  • Campbell-Johnston, R, (2011), Mysterious Wisdom: The Life and Work of Samuel Palmer, Bloomsbury, ISBN 13‏9780747595878
  • Gilchrist, A, 1863 (republished in 2017), The Life of William Blake, Dover, ISBN 139780486400051


  • The childhood of Blake: On the title page to Blake’s 19 poems, Songs of Innocence, two children read a book – very likely the Bible - that sits upon their mother’s knee. Learning scripture by rote was a common practice in the Nonconformist Christian world of Blake’s childhood. We will see the impact the Bible had on his entire artistic outlook. This was only further reiterated in the religious movements of his time that regarded personal experience as paramount, deeply influencing how Blake saw both religion, the visual arts and his visions.
  • The visions of Blake: At the age of four, Blake screamed in terror at the sight of God putting his head to his bedroom window. Central to Blake’s life was his capacity to incorporate experiences like these into the deepest fabric of his identity. Many scholars fearing the label of “madness” have formerly shied away from facing Blake’s mental state head on. We will consider how Blake’s insights in both art and poetry, are as relevant today in addressing cultural prejudices around “normality”, difference, marginalisation and mental health.
  • Apprenticeship to the engraver James Basire and a student at the Royal Academy: A formative experience for Blake involved his visions while copying images of Gothic design at Westminster Abbey as an apprentice to the engraver James Basire. His visions in the Abbey were interconnected with the early stages of the Gothic Revival in Britain and a belief that modernity had disconnected people from a land in which the Son of God had walked ‘on England’s pleasant pastures’.
    Blake was to go on to study at the Royal Academy but envied the prestigious direction in painting that he could not take as an engraver. We will see how his belief in an earlier art, more closely connected as he saw it, to the truth of the imagination, was used to rationalise his rejection of the Academy’s aims and buttress his own identity as an artist – craftsman.
  • Blake’s art in relation to his poetry and mythology: We will seek to broadly understand Blake’s personal mythology and its embodiment in his art. We will also examine the printmaking processes Blake used in producing his illuminated books that illustrated his myths, his other works and private commissions.
  • Blake’s influence and posthumous fame: In his later years, Blake was to have an influence on a group of young men who called themselves The Ancients. Blake was seen by them as a visionary, who described an expansive reality beyond a world in a huge state of social upheaval and flux, as a result of the Industrial Revolution. We will conclude, by looking at how Alexander Gilchrist’s 1863 biography of William Blake finally brought him posthumously in contact with a wider public audience.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Gain a broad and multifaceted context for visually analysing the works of William Blake, inclusive of his social and religious background, education and historical context.
  2. Relate Blake’s artistic output to his aesthetic outlook.
  3. Interpret Blake’s works within the context of his poetry and printmaking practice.
$67 Limited

<p>Blake is an artist who is superficially familiar but whose intentions are largely an enigma to most. Almost unknown in his lifetime, it was believed by his closest artist friends that he would be

20 Jul

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