William Blake at Tate Liverpool

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Satan smiting Job with boils

Tracey Emin’s bed was being shown as part of an exhibition which is meant to explore the connection between this controversial work and the paintings of William Blake.

According to the Tate

This new display affirms Blake’s Romantic idea of artistic truth through existential pain and the possibility of spiritual rebirth through art, shared in the work of Tracey Emin.

I have to say I found it difficult to see any real connection – if there is one it is rather tenuous. But it was great to see a significant collection of magnificent prints and drawings by Blake, most of which I hadn’t seen before “in the flesh”, displayed together in Liverpool. A real treat.

William Blake is something of a hero of mine. As well as a visual artist – a painter and printmaker – he is also well known as a poet. He was a political radical – a supporter of the French Revolution – and a religious visionary.

 File:William Blake by Thomas Phillips.jpg

(Picture source : Wikipedia)

He was also an innovator, developing a printing technique known as relief etching and used it to print most of his poetry. He called the technique illuminated printing and the poetry illuminated books. Many of the works on display in the exhibition were created using this process.

This is just a small selection of them

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Pity (c 1795)

This image is taken from Macbeth: ‘pity, like a naked newborn babe / Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim horsed / Upon the sightless couriers of the air’. Blake draws on popularly-held associations between a fair complexion and moral purity. These connections are also made by Lavater, who writes that ‘the grey is the tenderest of horses, and, we may here add, that people with light hair, if not effeminate, are yet, it is well known, of tender formation and constitution’. (Tate website)

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The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve c.1826

This work shows Adam and Eve discovering their dead son. His brother Cain, the murderer, flees the scene. Despite his evil deed, Cain, appears as an ideal male figure. (Tate website)

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Nebuchadnezzar 1795–c.1805

 

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The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy (formerly called ‘Hecate’) circa 1795

Enitharmon is an important female character in Blake’s mythology, playing a main part in some of his prophetic books. She is the Emanation of Los, and with Los gives birth to various children, including Orc. Although symbolising spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration (some critics have argued that Blake’s wife Catherine was the inspiration for the character) she is also used by Blake to represent female domination and sexual restraints that limit the artistic imagination (Tate website)

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William and Mary

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This modest monument is the location of the original grave where William Godwin and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft were buried in the Old Saint Pancras Churchyard. Their remains were removed and reburied in St Peter’s Church, Bournemouth graveyard, where they remain today.

I visited the churchyard, now a public park a short walk from St Pancras Station in London, on Wednesday while I was down in the Big Smoke on business. I had a few hours to spare before my first meeting and decided to use the time to pay homage  to Mary and her husband.

Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the earliest feminists and advocate of the rights of women. In her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman(1792), she argued that women were human beings who were not naturally inferior to men and deserved the same fundamental rights.

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Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797) – Source: Wikipedia

In 1792, while visiting friends in France, Wollstonecraft met Captain Gilbert Imlay, an American timber merchant and adventurer. They started a relationship and Mary gave birth to a daughter, Fanny, in May 1794. Not long after Mary and her daughter were abandoned by Imlay. Returning to England she met the radical philosopher, William Godwin. A relationship developed and Mary fell pregnant. Although Godwin had advocated the abolition of marriage, they decided to marry so that their child would be legitimate. They moved into two adjoining houses, known as The Polygon, so that they could both still retain their independence. A rather modern arrangement! The chid, a daughter, was born on 30 August 1797. Sadly, Mary died eleven days after giving birth.

Their daughter, named Mary after her mother, was later to eloped at the age of 16 with the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was five years senior and already married. Later to become his wife she is famous in her own right as the author of Frankenstein.

William Godwin has been described as a “utilitarian anarchist”. His views were set out in his book Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, usually shortened to Political Justice which was published in 1793. Selling over 4000 copies it was a “best seller” in it’s day. Godwin argued against private property and marriage and believed that as long as people acted rationally, they could live without laws or institutions, rebuilding society in free and equal association, self-governed by reason alone.

William Godwin by Henry William Pickersgill.jpg

After their marriage, an institution they had both opposed, Mary and William wee accused of hypocrisy by their opponents. But I take a different view. They lived within a society they opposed but could not isolate themselves from it. Marriage was a compromise for them as it was not easy to live together otherwise.

Like many early radicals, ’William and Mary aren’t as well known today as they deserve to be – although their portraits are hung in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

There’s a good brief biography of Mary on the BBC website here and while browsing on the web I came across an excellent website devoted to her.

Rosa Luxemburg Platz

Rsa Luxemburg Platz stands at the top of Rosa Luxemburg Strasse, in Mitte, Berlin, close to Alexanderplatz. The street and square are both named after the Socialist thinker and activist, born in Poland, who became a leader in the German Social Democratic Party (then a Marxist organisation) before the First World War. She was ostracised by the SPD and imprisoned when she opposed the war. Reluctanly drawn into supporting the Spartakist Uprising in 1919 during the revolutionary turmoil that followed the German defeat, she was murdered along with Karl Liebknecht by the Freikorps, a right-wing paramilitary group mainly made up of World War I veterans.

Quotations from her works are engraved into the pavement in the square and the nearby streets.

Although her political ideas were certainly not consistent with those of the Stalinists who were in charge of the German Democratic Republic, they named the street and square in her honour – an attempt to claim some legitimacy. But Rosa would have been appalled by their policies and methods.

    Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter. Not because of the fanaticism of “justice”, but rather because all that is instructive, wholesome, and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effects cease to work when “freedom” becomes a privilege. (Die russische Revolution. Eine kritische Würdigung, Berlin 1920 S. 109; Rosa Luxemburg)

    The square itself is dominated by the Volksbühne theatre. A large, grand neo-Classical building completed in 1914. To me it had a Modernist look about it with it's relatively simple form.
    The origin of the theatre was an organization known as the “Freie Volksbühne” (“Free People's Theater”) formed in 1892 to promote naturalist plays at prices accessible to workers. It was a cultural society and membership subscriptions were used to fund theatre productions which could be attended by the members of the club at a reduced rate. The society allowed workers – organised and led by the Social Democrats – to gain access to and participate in Berlin’s cultural life. The slogan “Die Kunst dem Volke” – Art to the people – was originally engraved on the front of the building, summed up the objective of the society.

    Karl-Liebknecht-House, formerly the headquarters of the German Communist Party (KPD) and now the Left Party (Die Linke) also stands on the Square.

    Red Rosa has also now disappeared

    Where she lies is unknown

    Because she told the truth to the poor

    The rich have hunted her out of the world.

    (Bertolt Brecht)