BLAKE, William
(b. 1757, London, d. 1827, London)

Songs of Innocence (Title page)

Relief etching, handpainted with watercolour and gold, 152 x 140 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

William Blake is the only artist of his rank who is even better known as a poet, and some of his most pleasing works are those he called "illuminated printing," which fuse picture and word to form a completely integrated and completely personal result. Songs of Innocence, published in 1789, comprises 31 illuminated poems; the book was republished in 1794 with Songs of Experience, with 54 plates in all. Blake's books are similar to 15th-century blockbooks, so called because for each page the letters were, like the images, carved from the block rather than printed from movable type. Blake printed his plates in one colour only, here a bright red-brown. The pages were then painted, perhaps by Blake himself, in watercolours and gold, so every copy of the book is unique. The colours and gold are especially brilliant in this copy. Blake kept the plates and produced these books over a long period of time, probably according to demand. The watermark on 12 leaves of the Metropolitan's copy includes the date 1825, indicating that it was made in or after that year.