Saturday, February 08, 2014


In 1795 the creative juices were flowing so copiously in William Blake that he hadn't finished one project before he started another. The printings of illuminated books led to his creating the series of painting know as The Large Color Printed Drawings. The group is held together by their large size, in the range of dimensions of 12 to 24 inches, compared to the illuminated books whose pages were typically under 9 inches in size, sometimes only 4 or 5 inches. In addition the method of production was unusual and fairly uniform for the group. The technique was that of a monoprint, although two or three prints were made from each painted drawing created. This was facilitated by the additional work Blake put into the image after it was pulled from the painted surface which made it into a highly finished painting. 
Although the paintings are much admired, there has been little agreement on the theme which Blake intended in deciding on the subject matter of particular images. Individual pictures are associated with Shakespeare, Milton, the Old and New Testament of the Bible, and events of Blake's own time.

By arranging the series from creation to resurrection it is possible to see in the series the habitual structure of creation, fall and return which Blake discerns as the paradigm of human or spiritual development. The order I will follow in later posts is:

1. Elohim Creating Adam
2. Satan Exaulting Over Eve
3. The Good  and Evil Angels
4. God Judging Adam
5. Lamech and His Two Wives
6. Nebuchadnezzar
7. The House of Death
8. Hecate or The Night of Enitharmon's Joy
9. Newton
10. Naomi Entreating Ruth
11. Pity
12. Christ Appearing to the Apostles

Blake uses the term fresco to refer to his painting in watercolor harkening back to Michelangelo's technique on plaster.

Public Address, (E 577)
 "Fresco Painting is properly Miniature, or Enamel Painting;
every thing in Fresco is as high finished as Miniature or Enamel,
although in Works larger than Life.  The Art has been lost: I
have recovered it.  How this was done, will be told, together
with the whole Process, in a Work on Art, now in the Press.  The
ignorant Insults of Individuals will not hinder me from doing my
duty to my Art.  Fresco Painting, as it is now practised, is like
most other things, the contrary of what it pretends to be.
  The execution of my Designs, being all in Water-colours,
(that is in Fresco) are regularly refused to be exhibited by the
Royal Academy, and the British Institution has, 
this year, followed its example, and has effectually excluded me 
by this Resolution; I therefore invite those Noblemen and 
Gentlem[e]n, who are its Subscribers, to inspect what they have 
excluded: and those who have been told that my Works are
but an unscientific and irregular Eccentricity, a Madman's
Scrawls, I demand of them to do me the justice to examine before
they decide.
  There cannot be more than two or three great Painters or
Poets in any Age or Country; and these, in a corrupt state of
Society, are easily excluded, but not so easily obstructed.  They
have ex[c]luded Watercolours; it is therefore become necessary
that I should exhibit to the Public, in an Exhibition of my own,
my Designs, Painted in Watercolours.  If Italy is enriched and
made great by RAPHAEL, if MICHAEL ANGELO is its supreme glory, if
Art is the glory of a Nation, if Genius and Inspiration are the
great Origin and Bond of Society, the distinction my Works have
obtained from those who best understand such things, calls for my
Exhibition as the greatest of Duties to my Country."
May 15. 1809
                                             WILLIAM BLAKE

Yale Center for British Art
Plate 40
In The Illuminated Blake, Erdman tells us that in the right border of this plate we can see William and Catherine Blake at work creating the designs we so enjoy. "These two are Los and Enitharmon working in line and color, but in their mundane vehicles ... i.e. William and Catherine Blake...Here he is walking in the line...which his right foot sends down to Catherine's arms and feet. This leaves the poet's writing arm free while his sixfold printing arm can fill the sky with grape leaves in three color varieties and spin a tight wiery coil of communication to break past its limit...Catherine's influence turns the vine to green ribbons; a spare paintbrush with five red dipped fingers and a flower brush curls at her other side." 

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