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William Blake was an English artist with multiple talents. He was a painter, writer, poet, and printmaker. During his lifetime, Blake was quite unrecognized. However, the artist would later become one of the most influential figures in the history of visual arts and poetry of the Romantic period. He also created prophetic artworks based on his religious visionary experiences.
William Blake was born in November 1757, in the London's district of Soho. Although his parents were English Dissenters, Blake was baptized at St James's Church. That would be an early and robust influence throughout Blake's life. He attended school only until ten years old when he learned how to write and read, from this point on, his education was at home, under his mother's teachings. Young William Blake showed a keen interest in drawing, making engraving copies of Greek antiquities drawings, which his father bought for him. This is when he would make his first contact with classical styles through works of Michelangelo, Durer, and Raphael. At 10, his parents enrolled him in drawing classes instead of regular school.
In 1772, when William Blake was 15, he became engraver James Basire's apprentice for seven years, which after this time, he would become a professional engraver. Blake entered the Royal Academy of Arts in 1779, where he stood for six years. Over time, Blake came to detest the institution's president, Joshua Reynolds, whose visions towards art like his beliefs in general beauty and truth Blake despised. On that matter, Blake would say: "To Generalize is to be an Idiot; To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit".
William Blake would meet and marry Catherine Boucher in 1782. She was illiterate, and her wedding contract was signed with an X. Blake taught Catherine writing, reading, and engraving. She would prove an invaluable partner throughout his life, helping him printing his artworks and maintaining his positiveness in cases of misfortune.
One of the artist's most traumatizing experience occurred in 1787, caused by the death of his brother Robert, a victim of tuberculosis. Allegedly, Blake saw the spirit of his brother ascending through the ceiling.
In 1804, Blake began writing and illustrating one of his most ambitious projects to date, the Jerusalem series, concluded in 1820. He also exhibited two paintings, Satan Calling Up His Legions, and Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, which were met with a cold reception and an even harsher published review, referring to Blake as an "unfortunate lunatic." Such a reaction devastated the artist, hindering his productivity and plunging him further into obscurity, poverty, and paranoia.
However, in 1819, Blake would begin his series of visionary heads, depictions of imaginary and historical figures that, according to him, actually appeared and posed to him. Amongst these characters are Merlin, the magician, and King Solomon. Maybe the most famous of them is The Ghost of a Flea.
Willam Blake died in 1827, victimized by an undiagnosed disease.