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Print made by William Blake, 1757–1827, British

Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Plate 1, Innocence Frontispiece (Bentley 2)

Part Of:

Collective Title: Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Bentley Copy L

1789 to 1794
Relief etching printed in dark-brown with pen and black ink and watercolor on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Sheet: 7 1/8 x 5 inches (18.1 x 12.7 cm), Plate: 4 3/8 x 2 3/4 inches (11.1 x 7 cm), and Spine: 7 3/8 inches (18.7 cm)

Inscribed in black ink upper right: "1"; inscribed on back in graphite upper left: "1799-"; in graphite center left: "JS" (initials in monogram)

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
angel | baby | children | flute | Horn (Musical instrument) | literary theme | man | pipe | religious and mythological subject | sheep | shepherd | trees | trumpet | vines
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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Blake claimed that his method of relief etching, which allowed him to create text and image together in the same process on the same copper plate, had come to him in a vision of his dead brother, Robert. Using an acid-resistant varnish, Blake could draw and write on the plate. When etched in an acid bath, image and text, protected by the varnish, would be left standing in relief. The areas in relief would then be inked and printed. Assisted by his wife, Catherine, Blake would then strengthen the printed lines with pen and ink and color the images with watercolor. Although labor-intensive, the entire process of production was controlled by Blake without the compromises of working with a commercial publisher. In 1788 Blake made his first experiments with relief etching to produce illustrated texts, “All Religions Are One” and “There Is No Natural Religion”. A year later he used the process to create “Songs of Innocence”, his first illuminated book of poetry. Couched in the form of a book for children, the simplicity of Blake’s lyrics and of the charming designs in which they are embedded are deceptive. The “Songs” are profound meditations on the human condition, and the richness and complexity of Blake’s vision became more fully apparent with his production of a companion volume, “Songs of Experience”, in 1794. The following year he combined the two books under the title “Songs of Innocence and of Experience”. Blake produced none of his illuminated books in large editions; indeed, each copy was unique, with variations in coloring and even in the order of plates. The twenty-six known copies of “Songs of Innocence”, four “Songs of Experience”, and twenty-four “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” (a figure that also includes separately issued copies of “Innocence” and “Experience” that were later combined by collectors or dealers) were among Blake’s best sellers.

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 275, no. 69, pl. 69, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

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