William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. What he called his prophetic works were said by 20th-century critic Northrop Frye to form "what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language". His visual artistry led 21st-century critic Jonathan Jones to proclaim him "far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced". In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. While he lived in London his entire life, except for three years spent in Felpham, he produced a diverse and symbolically rich œuvre, which embraced the imagination as "the body of God" or "human existence itself".
Although Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterised as part of the Romantic movement and as "Pre-Romantic". A committed Christian who was hostile to the Church of England (indeed, to almost all forms of organised religion), Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions. Though later he rejected many of these political beliefs, he maintained an amiable relationship with the political activist Thomas Paine; he was also influenced by thinkers such as Emanuel Swedenborg. Despite these known influences, the singularity of Blake's work makes him difficult to classify. The 19th-century scholar William Rossetti characterised him as a "glorious luminary", and "a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmisable successors".
Artist as subject
Film and audio
Opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy
Discover queer responses to our collection at Tate Britain, curated by members of the LGBTQ+ community at Tate and beyond
William Blake's simple pencil drawing of his (long-suffering) wife Catherine reveals the tenderness in their relationship
Take a closer look at Blake's longest - and most mysterious - illuminated book
Take a closer look at several of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience in their original illustrated form
Explore seven of Blake's illustrations to Dante's classic work in detail
Born in London in 1757, Blake spent the majority of his life in the city. Explore the important London places ...
Blake believed in the power of the imagination. Meet the various characters in his personal mythology and their meaning in ...
The iconography of an artwork is the imagery within it
The technique of painting with pigments bound in a water-soluble emulsion, such as water and egg yolk, or an oil-in-water ...
Fairy painting is particularly associated with the Victorian period, art that depicts fairies and other subjects from the supernatural