The exhibition of the English artist, poet and mystic William Blake (1757-1827) at Helsinki City Art Museum was exceptionally to the point at the beginning of the new millennium. Few artists can be said to have been "ahead of their times" as Blake. Indeed, Blake, who in his own era received almost no recognition, said himself that his public was the "Children of the Future Age".
Born in London in 1757, William Blake's thinking was much influenced by the French Revolution, which was generally regarded as a sign of the dawning of a new age in Europe. Blake saw himself primarily as a prophet, for whom art was a way of bringing about a change in mankind and thereby in society. Blake's themes ranged from social injustices and lack of love to spiritual emptiness – problems which are now, over 200 years later, still as topical and universal as they were then. For Blake, true divinity comes from human nature, when it awakens to the reality of its visionary powers: "Imagination or the Divine Body in Every Man".
Blake is perhaps best known for his lyrical works, such as the Songs of Innocence and The Tyger. In recent years, however, his reputation has become increasingly bound with his prophetic works and their world of idiosyncratic mythology. Blake is also famous for his luminous watercolours and engravings illustrating the Bible, Dante and other authors. The uniqueness of Blake's works stems from the way in which they integrate text and design into a seamless whole. His training as a commercial engraver enabled him to experiment with the techniques of printmaking, which he undertook along with his creative artistic and poetic work. The method developed by Blake enabled him to integrate drawing, painting and text on a single plate, and in his poetic works, plants, animals and human spirits cavort among the words, or words appear seamlessly among the designs.
This exhibition consisted of 137 works from the extensive Blake collection in the British Museum. There were original illuminated books on display along with watercolours and prints produced using a variety of techniques, as well as other related material. Most of the works were exhibited for the first time outside Great Britain, now in Helsinki and later next autumn in the Prague Castle. The works in the exhibition were selected by Professor David Bindman and Simon Baker, who also wrote texts for the catalogue. The exhibition is produced by the British Museum and is supported by the British Council. Helsinki is a European City of Culture in 2000. The exhibition is part of the year of culture programme.