Winter is here! There’s a chill in the air, and the nights are drawing in. It was on just such a cold, dark November night in 1757 that one of Westminster’s most famous residents, the great artist and poet William Blake, was born. His family home was at 28 Broad Street, Golden Square, Soho, nestled within a fashionable neighbourhood featuring a mix of respectable shops and private houses.
As a boy, Blake exhibited a romantic and contemplative nature, and showed a precocious artistic talent. His childhood days were spent frequenting the art dealers’ shops of the West End from whom he often purchased plaster casts and prints which he then sketched at home.
From the age of 14, Blake was indentured as an engraver’s apprentice, drawing the tombs and wax funeral effigies of Westminster Abbey. It is widely recognised that his early years had a profound and life-long influence on Blake’s artistic style, and significantly contributed to the development of his distinctive personal philosophy.
Blake’s connection with Westminster was lifelong and he, apparently, felt unsettled during the brief periods he lived elsewhere. He eventually died in his home on Fountain Court, The Strand, in 1837.
In keeping with the Westminster connection, the Preston Blake Collection, which was donated by a renowned Blake scholar in 1969, is held by the City of Westminster Archives Centre. The collection holds a rich and unique set of papers, books, periodicals, and catalogues. Highlights include Blake’s copy of his book Poetical Sketches with annotations made in his own handwriting, and artist’s proofs of large engraved illustrations for Dante.
In celebration of Blake’s November birthday, the Archive Centre’s Book of the Month, Martin Myrone’s The Blake Book, is drawn from the Preston Blake Collection. The Blake Book provides a thorough introduction to the life and work of the great artist and draws on a vast array of contemporary scholarship, providing a clear-headed overview of Blake’s art and writing. Exploring the context of his art and life, his symbolism, techniques and critical reputation, and presenting his own writings on art and artists.
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