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Published: 14 September 2019

By Andy Ross

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William Blake and the textile industry

The Tate Gallery in London has just opened a new exhibition of William Blake, the Romantic poet and artist.

Known for his visionary paintings and poems such as “The Tyger”, William grew up in a household where his father was a haberdasher and hosier and his mother had been previously married to a haberdasher. His brother followed their father’s profession but William went to Par’s Drawing Academy where he was taught drawing and copying. His textile links though ran much deeper than simply family trade. In those days, art classes worked to produce textile designs as well as other art, and these were for the silk and calico print trade, carried out in Spitalfields, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and Shoreditch by Huguenot weavers and printers. Throughout his early life and career, William was exposed to the industry and the riots and unrest that were unleashed by what the weavers and printers saw as unfair competition from overseas markets. These had such an effect on him that they shaped his future thinking about politics, his poems and his art work, as can be seen in this interesting thesis on JSTOR, which is about the influence of the textile industry on the artist’s life.

The Tate exhibition is on until the 2nd February 2020.