Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Declining Years

By 1804 Blake finished Milton and Jerusalem, a magnificent achievement but without financial remuneration. He and Catherine lapsed into an increasing level of poverty; there was no income.

Always starkly plain-speaking he had managed to lose the friends and sponsors of the 18th Century:

Blake became friends with John Flaxman, Thomas Stothard and George Cumberland during his first year at the Royal Academy. They shared radical views.

John Flaxman, a distinguished artist, had been generous to Blake in various ways. He introduced Blake to Henry Fuseli, a Swiss artist had much in common with Blake. He introduced him to Hayley, who supported Blake and Catherine for three years at Felpham. Expressing his gratitude in 1800 Blake wrote these lines:

"To My Dearest Friend John Flaxman these lines
I bless thee O Father of Heaven & Earth that ever I saw Flaxmans face.
Angels stand round my Spirit in Heaven. the blessed of Heaven are my friends upon Earth.
When Flaxman was taken to Italy Fuseli was giv'n to me for a season
And now Flaxman hath given me Hayley his friend"
(Erdman 707).

But "as poverty, neglect, and the utter failure of an 1809 exhibition caused him mounting frustration, Blake picked bitter arguments with his erstwhile supporters. He turned on Flaxman with accusations of hypocrisy; he successfully alienated the peaceable Stothard and, by 1810, had managed to fall out with ....the benevolent Butts. There were no more commissions forthcoming.
'I found them blind and taught them how to see
and now they know neither themselves or me' (E508)." (Mysterious Wisdom, page 64) written by Rachel Campbell-Johnston)

But we're told that he accused Flaxman of hypocrisy and also alienated Stothard (a long term friend who was given a commission after it was promised to Blake).

Eventually the Blakes were one step from the workhouse. But help was to come. In 1818 one remaining friend, George Cumberland, introduced him to John Linnell, a prosperous artist. It introduced a chain of events that led to a larger acquaintance that could only help William and Catherine Blake; in fact it served to glorify Blake's last decade.

"Linnell was one of the best friends and kindest patrons of William Blake. He gave him the two largest commissions he ever received for single series of designs—£150 for drawings and engravings of The Inventions to the Book of Job, and a like sum for those illustrative of Dante Aligheri." (From John Linnell (painter)

No comments: