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Title: The twelve large colour prints of William Blake : a study on techniques, materials and context
Author: Tanaka, Minne
ISNI:       0000 0001 3497 9972
Awarding Body: Nottingham Trent University
Current Institution: Nottingham Trent University
Date of Award: 2008
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The aim of this thesis is to study in entirety the group of large colour prints which William Blake made between 1795 and 1805. The series of prints represents the single most important and complete development of Blake’s skill as an innovative printmaker. Although they include some of Blake’s best-known images, they have not been studied before in their entirety or from the point of view of analysing the techniques and methods Blake had used. My study will show how Blake executed these truly impressive prints in terms of materials, method and motives. The first half of the thesis deals with the materialistic aspects of Blake’s colour printing. In chapter one tracing the controversial two-pull discussion to the root, I will make clear the focus points as well as revealing the early tradition of experimental criticism on Blake’s colour printing method. Focusing on two important critics, W. Graham Robertson and Ruthven Todd, and the periods they lived, I attempt to reveal the role they played in a wider context. Also I show how the tradition of Blake’s art was inherited directly through the Ancients to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which leads to Robertson and Todd. In the second chapter I deal with the development of Blake’s colour printing experiments. It is obvious that the Twelve Large Colour Prints were produced as a result of Blake’s series of colour printing experiments, starting with monocolour simple prints, going through the illuminated books progressing with more colours and higher skills. As the experiments processed, the illustrations started to get free from the text and became independent visual art. Thus the Large and Small Book of Designs are compiled of full-page designs taken from the earlier illuminated books and printed in full colours, and interestingly some prints are colour printed from intaglio-etched plates. Based on my direct experience of comparing various prints and feeling the differences of the stages in the experiments in a relatively short period of time during my two research trips to the United States, I attempt to reconstruct the development of colour prints placed in his entire oeuvre. Chapter three is the history of colour printing. Throughout history, many innovative printers attempted colour printing, but the number of those who succeeded both technically and financially was surprisingly few. Some were obliged to pursuit their aesthetic in amateurish wasteful spending even ending in bankruptcy, and some compromised the quality for mass production and cost effectiveness. But there have always been innovative printers trying to produce prints in colour. Taking in the whole picture, I try to understand Blake’s colour printing better. Chapter four is my attempt to record scientifically attained information about the materials Blake used. Most of the information in this chapter is taken from the results of the research conducted by the Tate conservationists led by Joyce Townsend. Thanks to their state of the art equipment, most of the pigments and other materials are now identifiable. By studying materials, we can grasp the method physically. The latter three chapters narrow the focus on the series of Twelve Large Colour Prints itself. Chapter five deals with the actual examination of the prints. During this doctoral project, I saw all prints extant, except two, Nebuchadnezzar at Minneapolis and Good and Evil Angels in a private collection in New York. Based on my direct experience, I give the full record of the location, comparison of different pulls and further information for each print. In chapter six I trace the footstep of academic criticism in the field of art history to show what has been said about the interpretation of the Twelve Large Colour Prints. The first important critic was Anthony Blunt. As the director of the Courtauld Institute he not only set the base tone of Blake criticism in this field with his monograph but educated many critics after him. Various critics contributed to accumulate knowledge, but none could propose a decisive narrative to unite the whole set of prints. The latest proposal was made convincingly by Butlin and Lindsay in 1989 to put them in six pairs. In chapter seven I attempt to give my own interpretation of Blake’s motivation from his contemporary social situation and the art discussion Blake joined in. In relation to the art world Blake lived in, especially to the boom of galleries opened one after another by influential printmakers, I speculate what drove Blake to invent new methods and produce those exuberant colour prints.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available