05 September 2019, The Tablet

Blake: a prophet in Paradise

Blake: a prophet in Paradise

William Blake’s Pity, c.1795


Tate Britain’s new show aims to unravel Blake’s complex relationship with faith, and its place in his art

Interviewing Timothy Spall about his role as L.S. Lowry in Adrian Noble’s new film, Mrs Lowry & Son (out this week), I asked the actor who played J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh’s 2014 biopic which artist he would like to play next, if going for the treble. He said William Blake.

Lowry, Turner and Blake form a triptych of artists who rose to fame from humble beginnings: Turner the son of a Covent Garden barber, Lowry of a Pendlebury rent collector and Blake of a Soho hosier. In their day, though, none would have counted as working-class heroes. The Broad Street – now Broadwick Street – William Blake (1757-1827) grew up on was a lively mix of classes – professionals at one end, craftsmen and tradespeople at the other, and a brothel on the corner with Poland Street. The art world was also less elitist than now. The profession Blake entered in the 1770s before training at the Royal Academy was a respectable and potentially profitable one: producing engraved reproductions of other artists’ work for a booming market.

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