Tuesday, November 10, 2009

William Blake at the Morgan Library

To see a world in a grain of sand... William Blake's lovely words from "Auguries of Innocence" wink up at you from a small brown notebook as you enter the Blake exhibit at the Morgan Library. It's a thrill to see them in his own neat, polite hand - the well-behaved script of the 18th century - especially as they come from a mind that was anything but polite and conventional. The Morgan Library specializes in that kind of thrill; you can find Tenniel's original drawings for Alice in Wonderland, musical manuscripts by major composers, an original Gutenberg Bible (2 1/2, actually) - as someone said about the collection - "if not the only, the best." I lived for a number of years around the corner from the Morgan and still feel nostalgic for the days when admission was free and nobody went there except us book arts lovers (my days as a limited edition book publisher.) Now, with its airy new interior by Renzo Piano, it's more accessible and far better attended ... a good thing, as it always has very interesting exhibits in addition to the jaw-dropping treasures in the inner sanctum, J.P. Morgan's private library. The Blake exhibit is the Morgan at its best: excellent quality original art and text, beautifully displayed with intelligent, articulate explanations. If you go, be sure to allow time for learning by careful examination of details. William Blake (1757-1827) had little use for conventional religion and social artifice; he believed in equality of gender and opposed slavery. He is considered by some to the be forerunner of 20th century anarchism. His signature medium is engraving, a method that allowed him to give his idiosyncratic visions full rein by combining the linear arts of drawing and writing. He lived at a radical moment, witnessing the American and French Revolutions, with all that implies about hope for humanity and disappointment at human chaos. The exhibit contains several of his illustrated series, including the Book of Job, but I was most fascinated by the Prophecies, one for America and one for Europe. He tells the stories by focusing on a God/Tyrant figure, expressing in his lushly cryptic poetry and elegant, sinuous drawings the fears and triumphs of his human characters. This link to the exhibit has interactive features, including Jeremy Irons reading "Auguries of Innocence" and "Tyger." http://www.themorgan.org/collections/works/blake/default.asp

1 comment:

Richard said...

Brings it all back. Blake's delicate and complex language and the engravings that illustrate his pointed vision. Supposedly, he could visualize these paintings in 3D.