We drove to Oxford in February for an early birthday treat at the Ashmolean Museum:
We certainly weren't disappointed. This was the largest exhibition dedicated to William Blake that I had attended since the one at the Tate I had visited back in 1978. In some ways this was more interesting for me because of how the exhibition was arranged to include the three periods of apprenticeship, development and mastery of his printed books and then the influence the old Blake had on younger followers.
Blake was always my hero - coming from a family of Blakes helped develop my interest as a child.
Having been a young collector myself, scratching around in junk shops and bookshops with my pocket money, I was delighted to hear about the ten year old Blake attending auctions and buying Old Master Prints.
The young Blake was apprenticed to the great engraver James Basire, whose name I knew from my own childhood when my Grandfather gave me this Basire engraving after a design by Guercino:
I had seen very little of Blake's early work, making this exhibition a real treat. I am more familiar to his hand printed and coloured books but it is still a special occasion to see so many on display.
Another unexpected treat was to find a reconstruction of Blake's press and studio, complete with Durer's "Melencolia I"on the wall. Here is the press:
There was a lovely group of works by the young artists who were influenced by Blake, including some very fine etchings by Samuel Palmer. There was also a wonderful quote by Palmer which sums up the act of pulling a print well:
"Something of the excitement of gambling, without its guilt and ruin"
Those who know my love of Blake will know of my gentle obsession with his wood engravings, especially the oak tree, moon and wind blown wheatfield. I was very excited to see that the original drawing and woodblock were on display:
Back home, and on my birthday, I received the catalogue as a gift. It is a fine book and I am enjoying reading it from cover to cover:
The Blake wood engravings for Thornton's Virgil are reproduced very well:
I am very lucky to have found two impressions of my favourite engraving pulled from Blake's original engraved woodblock. The first is lightly inked on a wove paper and the second more fully inked on a smoother paper. Both delight me, as you can imagine.
This engraving still influences me in my work.
Another delight; we have a new Grandson, Blake English.