Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Preliminary Drawing for Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims
British Museum

Blake produced his painting and his engraving of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims at a time when he was hard pressed by the changes taking place in the technical and economic facets of producing art. The prospects of profit motivated artists to compete for business, use short-cuts to mass produce, pander to popular taste, and use underhanded business practices.

Blake felt he had been cheated by the publisher/bookseller Cromek in the work he had done for the edition of Blair's The Grave which Cromek issued. He was deprived of the much need income from engraving his own designs for the book although he felt he had been promised the commission by Cromek. Subsequently Blake conceived of a large cabinet picture of the Canterbury Pilgrims which he would then engrave for sale to the public. Blake recalled mentioning the project to Cromek who then engaged Blake's friend Stothard to do the very same thing. With the backing of the publisher/bookseller Stothard's picture earned considerable money while Blake's did not.

Blake felt betrayed by Cromek and by Stothard who had been his friend since student days. Blake's anger is apparent in his Descriptive Catalogue, in the Chaucer Prospectuses, and in the Public Address which was never published or delivered. Tied in with Blake's resentment of Cormek and Stothard and his hostility toward them was his understanding of the changes in the role of art which were taking place because of the adoption of practices associated with the Industrial Revolution.

Public Address, (E 572)
"In this Plate Mr B has resumed the style with which he set
out in life of which Heath & Stothard were the awkward imitators
at that time it is the style of Alb Durers Histries & the old
Engravers which cannot be imitated by any one who does not
understand Drawing & which according to Heath & Stothard Flaxman
& even Romney. Spoils an Engraver for Each of these Men have
repeatedly asserted this Absurdity to me in condemnation [P 52]
of my Work & approbation of Heaths lame imitation Stothard being
such a fool as to suppose that his blundering blurs can be made
out & delineated by any Engraver who knows how to cut dots &
lozenges equally well with those little prints which I engraved
after him five & twenty Years ago & by which he got his
reputation as a Draughtsman"
Public Address, (E 574)
"In this manner the English Public have been imposed upon for
many Years under the impression that Engraving & Painting are
somewhat Else besides Drawing[.] Painting is Drawing on Canvas &
Engraving is Drawing on Copper & Nothing Else & he who pretends
to be either Painter or Engraver without being a Master of
Drawing is an Impostor. We may be Clever as Pugilists but as
Artists we are & have long been the Contempt of the Continent
Gravelot once said to My Master Basire
[you] English may be very clever in [your]
own opinions but [you] do not draw [the] draw

Resentment for Personal Injuries has had some share in this
Public Address But Love to My Art & Zeal for my Country a much

Public Address, (E 576)
"I have heard many People say Give me the Ideas. It is no
matter what Words you put them into & others say Give me the
Design it is no matter for the Execution. These People know
Nothing Of Art. Ideas cannot be Given
but in their minutely Appropriate Words nor Can a Design be made
without its minutely Appropriate Execution[.] The unorganized
Blots & Blurs of Rubens & Titian are not Art nor can their Method
ever express Ideas or Imaginations any more than Popes
Metaphysical jargon of Rhyming[.] Unappropriate Execution is the
Most nauseous affectation & foppery He who copies does
not Execute he only Imitates what is already Executed Execution
is only the result of Invention"

Blake turned inward following the episode involving the painting and engraving of Canterbury Pilgrims. The way which he had reacted to the failure and disappointment of his project was not congruent with his self image as one who knew that the Eternal world was reality, and that what happened in the natural world was transient states. It took Blake a long time to process the experience of rejection from those he depended upon and from the public to whom he appealed. The Public Address was a first step in which his anger exploded, but it was followed by the writing of Milton and Jerusalem in which he explored the dynamics of the presence of evil in the external and internal worlds.

Carl Jung experienced a similar psychological death when he broke with Freud. The experience was followed by a long period of introspection during which Jung explored the dark recesses of his unconscious and formulated his understanding of the dynamics of the psyche.

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