Sunday, November 21, 2010

Artworks I'd Steal: William Blake

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Source: Wikipedia, the original is at Tate Britain.

The body of Abel is discovered by Adam and Eve, Cain is fleeing from what he has done. Full of extreme poses and raw emotion, I find this the most touching depiction of the first murder I have ever seen. It's not mentioned in the Bible, but it must have happened. Imagine how horrible it must be not only to loose your child, but to loose it at the hands of your other child. Would Adam have killed Cain, if God hadn't intervened? Would Eve have wanted revenge? Cain is horror-struck by what he has done - he tried to bury Abel's body to hide it, but now all he can do is run. The painting makes them all come alive to me.

Like many of Blake's works, it's a watercolour and it's small, only 12 3/4 x 17 inches. He also made engravings, relief etchings and he was a poet, illustrating his own works and that of others (Dante's Divine Comedy for example). Blake was a deeply religious man, although he did not agree with many of the religious viewpoints of his time and in fact he created his own Christian mythology - which is why he was considered a rebel or even mad in his own time.
I first came across his work when I read Thomas Harris' "Red Dragon" in which one of his paintings plays an important role. As a starting point for learning more about his life, I would recommend Peter Ackroyd's biography. Some of Blake's literary works can be found at Project Gutenberg. My favourite is this one:

A POISON TREE

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
and he knew that it was mine,—

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

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