by Sura Wood
Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night;What immortal hand or eye,Could frame thy fearful symmetry? – William Blake
The first stanza of “The Tyger,” a poem by the late-18th/early-19th century English Romantic poet, painter and printmaker William Blake published in 1794, is one of the most famous in the English language. Blake, the progenitor of the livre d’artiste, who created hundreds of innovative engraved illustrations, original writings, watercolors, and illuminated books exquisitely hand-colored and heightened with gold, at last has a gallery dedicated to him. It’s the only one of its kind since he launched his own in 1809, an unsuccessful venture that failed to sell a single work and closed after only a year. One wag pronounced the contents of its catalogue “the wild effusions of a distempered brain.”
“I must be stark raving mad, too,” concedes antiquarian book dealer John Windle, owner of The William Blake Gallery, which opened on the second floor of 49 Geary in San Francisco last month. Windle, a 40-year veteran of the book trade, also runs the Blake Library and a shop specializing in medieval illuminated texts and illustrated books, and children’s books, just a few steps away from his newest venture. With perhaps the largest collection of Blake available for purchase and clients from around the world, from students offering up $5 for a pocket Blake to venture capitalists willing to drop $100 million, the place has the comforting feel of an old study lined with treasured volumes and rare artistic finds. “Blake was a visionary who saw how to create art that had never been created before, and the first man in the history of Western art to combine art and craft,” says Windle.