Visions of Britain

CaixaForum brings William Blake's works to Madrid

'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils,' by William Blake.
'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils,' by William Blake.

At just 10 years old William Blake (1757-1827) was already taking lessons in drawing and etching. The classes made him understand very early on the rudimentary techniques at the same time as he was creating an imaginative and prophetic world unlike any other. With non-conformism his guiding principle and the Gothic and Michelangelo his inspiration, he first established his mystical philosophy via etchings and watercolors - never oils - at the age of 16. Convinced that the visible world of the senses was the mere wrapping of a spiritual reality, Blake created a vast body of work in which his surprising compositions gave free rein to his visual poems.

Mythologies, delusions and religious and social themes all feature in a dazzling retrospective of the artist now on show at the CaixaForum Madrid. Organized with Tate Britain, the owner of a large part of the Blake's legacy, the exhibition also looks into some of the artists influenced by his work.

Tate Britain curator Alison Smith put together the exhibition to highlight the relevance of an artist who is one of the best-loved in Britain. "A product of Romanticism, he is our equivalent of Goya," she explains. "Like him, Blake was touched by his experiences of war and by suffering social inequalities. It was only at the end of his life that his art began to be recognized, but his oeuvre continues to inspire generations of artists."

Between 1788 and 1806 he embarked on a period of poetic production that fueled his artistic works. In his poems, religious traditions mix with esoteric ideas and pure literature. His works remain so relevant today that his poem Jerusalem is still a bestseller every year during cultural events such as The Proms. Revolutionary and ahead of its time, the frontispiece for his poem Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) shows three figures chained together who appear stuck to the rocks of England in a work that contains themes of sexual freedom and equality between men and women. His paintings are, in general, small and medium-format works featuring non-conformist and mystical images inspired by the visions that accompanied him his whole life. He used these visions to condemn the vices of the system via fantasy or Old Testament characters.

The exhibition is divided into the areas reflecting the majority of the themes that fuel Blake's work. It starts with his first etchings, before continuing with the prophetic books, his color etchings, Biblical scenes, tempera paintings, The Book of Job, The Divine Comedy, The Ancients (the first artists who adopted him as their master), the Pre-Raphaelites, Symbolists and the British Neo-romantics.

William Blake. Until October 21 at CaixaForum Madrid, Paseo del Prado 36.

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