‘Blake, The Flaxmans, and the Romantic Sociability’: A Two-Day event held at Birkbeck

Birkbeck chaired ‘Blake, The Flaxmans, and the Romantic Sociability’, on the 18th and 19th July 2014, and I managed to attend the Friday conference.

On a hot summer’s day, students and academics in the field of the Romantic era, particularly William Blake (1757 – 1827) and John Flaxman (1755 – 1826), flocked to 43 Gordon Square to hear about the works of the iconic Romanticist artists and their work.

John Flaxman
John Flaxman (1755 – 1826)

Throughout the conference poems, archival prints, photos of sculptures and engravings by Blake and Flaxman were displayed alongside academic papers, which discussed specific parts about the sociability and sensibility of the 18th century.

Some papers also focussed on the personal relationship between the two artists, who both studied at the Royal Academy of Art, and their later departures into different schools of thought and philosophical ideals concerning art.

William Blake
William Blake (1757 – 1827)

Michael Philips from the University of York and guest curator of William Blake Apprentice & Master, opening at the Ashmolean Museum later this year, introduced the first paper: “Blake’s Old Hard Stiff & Dry Unfinished Works of Art.”

He looked at Blake’s relationship with George Michael Moser (1706 – 1783), a renowned artist who trained Blake, and the influence Blake’s time at the academy had on his view on the theory of knowledge and aesthetics.

Professor David Bindman from UCL discussed his paper, ‘Flaxman and Blake’s early Gothicism’, which argues that Anthony Stephen Mathew inscribed the earlier ’Gothic’ drawings of Flaxman and identified both artists with the 18th century poet Thomas Chatterton.

Bindman has written numerous works about Blake and Hogarth, including his book The Complete Graphic Works of Blake (1978).

Angus Whitehead, Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education in Singapore, was unfortunately unwell to attend; however, his paper, ‘A pinched, old, dreary little house […] transfigured’, was presented by David Fallon from the University of Sunderland. After Flaxman lived in Rome, he moved into 17 Buckingham Street, London.

With limited biographical information, Whitehead endeavours to describe what information he derived about Flaxman and his work from unpublished letters and architectural plans of his house.

Mark Crosby, Assistant Professor of Kansas State University gave his paper, “Athenian Flaxman, car-borne wonder of many a triumph of the arts,’ and his Shield of Achilles.”

Shield of Achilles
John Flaxman’s ‘Shield of Achilles’ (1795)

Here he expresses the meaning and nationalistic significance of what was hailed as the ‘finest work’, which cemented Flaxman reputation especially during the Napoleaonic wars.

The final paper given in the evening (which followed a discussion about Blake’s ‘An Island in the Moon’) was a paper by Tony Rosso from the Southern Connecticut State University.

Rosso discusses Flaxman’s various Britannia sculptures and highlights Blake’s antithesis view of imperialism, which he expressed through his poem Jerusalem as a ‘hermaphroditic’ union.

‘Jerusalem’ by Blake (1804)

As a fan of the Romanticism and its artistic ideals, this was an excellent event to attend. Intriguing papers were discussed, which was refreshing for students familiar with the artists’ work and provided new insight into their lives.

Written by Mary Grace Nguyen (Chief-Editor and Founder of Flock to the Crown) See more reviews by Mary on LDNCard and TrendFem

[Please click here for a video on Blake’s printmaking process demonstrated by Michael Philips ]

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