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William Blake

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A religious visionary and mystic, William Blake was acknowledged, after the fact, as one of the first leading figures of the Romantic movement. In his lifetime, however, he was viewed as an eccentric, at best. Blake began having visions of angels and prophets as a child; he was also writing poetry by age 12 and teaching himself art by studying the Renaissance masters. At 15, he started an apprenticeship in engraving; seven years later, in 1779, he started studying art at London's Royal Academy, despite his contempt for the loathing the academy's president, Joshua Reynolds. In 1784, Blake opened his printing shop, and started publishing his own works using a method of "illuminated printing." This method involved an initial monochrome printing of both text and illustration, after which Blake or his wife would apply watercolor to the pages by hand. Blake's extravagant etchings and paintings employed stylized figures, undulating lines, and daring colors. Blake's writings were informed by his passionate theism; he hated both Deism and atheism. In general, Blake's writings posit the necessity of a personal connection with God, focusing, almost obsessively, on the themes of humankind's fall and subsequent redemption. His most famous collection of poetry is the final 1794 version of Songs of Innocence and Experience, which contains his most popular poem, "The Tiger." Blake's poetry has been widely set by English and American composers, including William Bolcom, Ned Rorem, John Ireland, Benjamin Britten, Virgil Thomson, John Tavener, Henry Cowell, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. His watercolors are frequently used on CD booklet covers, especially for works concerning the Bible, mysticism, and Dante.

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28 November 1757 in London, England

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