Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jill Krementz Photo Journal - William Blake’s World

William Blake’s World:
“A New Heaven is Begun”

The Morgan Library & Museum
September 11, 2009-January 3, 2010

William Blake (1787-1827) was a poet, painter, and printmaker. During his lifetime he was best known as an engraver. The son of a London haberdasher, Blake had an abiding interest in theology and philosophy. His work, all of it, digs deeply into the state of man and his soul.

The Morgan has always been devoted to the work of Blake, collecting and exhibiting his work over many decades. What is now one of the most distinguished Blake collections began with purchases in 1899 by the institution's founder, Pierpont Morgan.

The spectacular new exhibition includes more than 100 works. Among the many highlights are two major series of watercolors including twenty-one of his beautiful illustrations for the Book of Job.

Satan Before the Throne of God. The watercolors for the Book of Job were painted between 1805 and 1810. All of them were later engraved and published in 1926. Here, in my layout, you can see four of the watercolors and four engravings side by side. When you visit the exhibition you will need to walk back and forth between two walls.
The Lord Answering Job Out of the Whirlwind.
Behemoth and Leviathan.
Job and His Family Restored to Prosperity.
Curator Anna Lou Ashby standing in front of a copy of The Grave, written by Robert Blair, with illustrations designed by Blake.
Europe: A Prophecy
Lambeth: Printed by Will: Blake, 1794
Relief and white line etching with color printing 4 of 17 plates printed on 10 leaves.

Europe is the second of Blake's great illuminated books concerning the revolutionary spirit of his age. Rather than examining the New World, this Continental Prophecy looks eastward to consider cultures subjected to the strictures of authority embodied by Urizen, who, despite his appearance, represents Tyranny.

The frontispiece depicting Urizen dividing the deep with a compass is one of Blake's best-known images. It also exists as a separate print called The Ancient of Days. The Morgan's copy of Europe, one of only nine, was printed in 1794.
Time magazine's Christopher Porterfield: "My definition of a successful exhibition is when you emerge feeling like you've read a good book."
MIlton in his Old Age sitting in his Mossy Cell Contemplating the Constellations. Surrounded by the Spirits of the Herbs & Flowers. bursts forth into a rapturous Prophetic Strain.
This book, Night Thoughts by Edward Young, one of the widely admired Graveyard poets, was printed in 1797. Blake painted 537 watercolors for the poem, of which he engraved forty-three for this first, and only, volume. The volume was so expensive to produce that no more were published. It is open to Night the Second on Time, Death and Friendship, where Time, reaching high, tries to divert the arrow of Death from two friends. On the left, the soul struggles upward for immortality while confined to earth by a chain.
Lee Rosenbaum, Cultural Journalist whose work often appears in The Wall Street Journal.
Morning Amusement. William Blake after Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721).
Evening Amusement. These prints were published when Blake was 24 years old. They were the first plates created after Blake completed his apprenticeship and demonstrate his great skill as a reproductive engraver. Nevertheless they did not win him commissions for the large print projects pf the early nineteenth century. Only seven copies of Morning and six of Evening have been traced.
Jospeh of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion. Design for the Cover Leaf of the Sheet Music An Elegy Set to Music by Thomas Commins.
Satan, ca. 1790. This hideous head of a man howling in torment is also known as "Head of a Damned Soul in Dante's Inferno." Impressions of this print are very rare -- only five proofs of a single state are extant -- and the general lack of lettering on known examples suggests that the print was never properly published. Blake likely executed this large-scale print as an experiment to entertain his friend Henry Fuseli.
Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims. This is a magnificent example of Blake's largest print, one of three known impressions to which he added watercolor. The engraving is known in five states, and the present sheet is the only hand-colored example of the third state of the image. Blake painted the pilgrims after a quarrel with R.H. Cromek and Thomas Stothard regarding whether the commission had originally been Blake's. The painting was exhibited at his brother's Soho shop in 1809, and this engraving was created for it.
Poetical Sketches. One of 23 copies, this earliest publication of Blake's poetry was set in conventional type. The introduction notes that Blake composed many of the poems between the ages of 12 and 20. The two songs here exemplify his early use of rural scenery. The turtledoves nesting in the branches of a tree, for example, represent love and harmony. More than 30 years later, this imagery was admired by the Ancients, who were moving from the symbolic use of nature to a more realistic style.
Christ Nailed to the Cross: The Third Hour, 1800-1803.
The Tyger. "The Tyger" was one of Blake's poems that was known and admired during his lifetime. These two plates are from a copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience that has plates from two different sets. The exhibition includes a recorded reading of the poems "Auguries of Innocence" and Tyger, by the actor Jeremy Irons.
Song of Los.
The gift shop.
Also at the Morgan, there is an exhibition "Celebrating Puccini."
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.