Saturday, September 03, 2011

Blake's Apprenticeship

In "London, Blake was apprenticed at the age of 14 to the "citizen and stationer of London" James Basire for £53, nearly £7,000 in modern terms, a considerable sum for James Blake, a hosier and father of five other surviving children. The apprenticeship lasted seven years and it was Basire who sent him to make the sketches at Westminster Abbey that are thought to have informed his later artistic style." (British Guardian 24 August 2011)

In the famous story of Blake's apprenticeship his father offered to engage William Ryland, the Royal engraver, and prepared to put down a princely sum for the apprenticeship, but the child objected on the basis of Ryland's looks; he told his father that he thought the man would live to be hanged. Once again the elder Blake respected the child's judgment, and sure enough, twelve years later Ryland was hanged for forgery.

(This from Wikipedia)
"On 4 August 1772, Blake became apprenticed to engraver James Basire of Great Queen Street, for the term of seven years. At the end of this period, at the age of 21, he was to become a professional engraver. No record survives of any serious disagreement or conflict between the two during the period of Blake's apprenticeship. However, Peter Ackroyd's biography notes that Blake was later to add Basire's name to a list of artistic adversaries—and then cross it out. This aside, Basire's style of engraving was of a kind held to be old-fashioned at the time, and Blake's instruction in this outmoded form may have been detrimental to his acquiring of work or recognition in later life.

After two years, Basire sent his apprentice to copy images from the Gothic churches in London (perhaps to settle a quarrel between Blake and James Parker, his fellow apprentice). His experiences in Westminster Abbey helped form his artistic style and ideas. The Abbey of his day was decorated with suits of armour, painted funeral effigies, and varicoloured waxworks. Ackroyd notes that "...the most immediate [impression] would have been of faded brightness and colour". In the long afternoons Blake spent sketching in the Abbey, he was occasionally interrupted by the boys of Westminster School, one of whom "tormented" Blake so much one afternoon that he knocked the boy off a scaffold to the ground, "upon which he fell with terrific Violence". Blake beheld more visions in the Abbey, of a great procession of monks and priests, while he heard "the chant of plain-song and chorale.""

These data should convince scholars that Blake's family was by no means poor. His career indicates significant downward social mobility, much like that of many of his disciples in the sixties generation- the flower children who came from affluent families and went from there to penury.


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