The Bay Area Reporter


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.

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November 18th, 2016

Friday: What a week! Is there nothing to which I can cling?

Yes! Yes there is.

On Monday, alongside preparing for Tuesday’s election, I made an extraordinary pilgrimage to the San Francisco shop of John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller. He has recently opened a Blake gallery, featuring, he proclaims, the largest collection anywhere of Blake’s works for sale. To stand among these prints and paintings and books is to step outside of time and touch eternity, figuratively taking the hand of the master who created some of the greatest expressions of mysticism in the entire history of art.

I wrote in my journal: “On the last day in America: a visit with William Blake.”

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San Francisco Chronicle: William Blake’s artworks at S.F. gallery speak to today

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By Charles Desmarais       November 9, 2016

In a very real sense, there is no such thing as “contemporary” art. Once something is made, it is part of history, whether a thousand years have passed or just a day.

They require closer attention than a big-screen movie epic, but there may be no works more powerfully current in their impact, more chillingly foreboding than William Blake’s “Illustrations of the Book of Job.” He published his engravings for the biblical story in 1826, drawing the imagery from watercolors he painted in 1805-06.

Blake gouged lines onto copper plates with steel burins — simple chisels no different from the ones Albrecht Dürer used three centuries earlier — then inked the plates and printed the images on paper. No fancy tools, no sophisticated technology. Just 315 copies, all burning with a timeless intensity.

John Windle has been a respected antiquarian bookseller in San Francisco for 40 years. Last month, he opened the William Blake Gallery as an adjunct to his shop in the famous 49 Geary St. art building. He claims it is the only such gallery in the world, with the largest collection anywhere of works for sale by the incomparable British mystic poet-artist.

The shop is charmingly stuffy, quietly muffled by walls packed with fine old books. When I visited, the bookstore had to be closed so that the single attendant could open the gallery: The owner was in Europe. Don’t let the closeness of the space and the donnish air put you off. The first exhibition, “Always in Paradise: A William Blake Chrestomathy,” is transporting.

In addition to the complete “Job” — an impeccably fresh set of the nearly 200-year-old works from the first printing — there are two even rarer paintings, a broken set of Blake’s “Illustrations to Dante’s Inferno” and other choice items. Alongside are oddities like his last engraving — a calling card for a friend — and commercial projects, all accompanied by impeccable scholarly annotation.

Ridiculed by many, ignored by most during his lifetime, Blake cut an independent trail that would be hard enough to follow even in our own more liberal time. “What is grand is necessarily obscure to weak men,” he wrote in a famous letter. “That which can be made explicit to the idiot is not worth my care.”

Charles Desmarais is The San Francisco Chronicle’s art critic. Email: Twitter: @Artguy1

Always in Paradise: A William Blake Chrestomathy: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Through Feb. 24. Free. William Blake Gallery, John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 986-5826.

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SF WEEKLY: Gallery devoted to William Blake

Evil Renderings of a Distempered Mind

The first gallery dedicated to William Blake opened and closed in London in 1809. The second opened in San Francisco in 2016.

The 2014 eviction of several art galleries from 77 Geary St. to make room for a tech company caused ripples of consternation through the San Francisco art world. Where would these businesses, with their large space requirements and low sales volumes, go? Dispersal is still a worry, but just down the block at 49 Geary, one small second-floor space has transformed into something unique: a gallery dedicated to the late-18th- and early-19th-century poet and painter William Blake.

It’s not just a first for San Francisco. It’s a first for the world — or, rather, a second, as the only other Blake gallery closed right after it opened, in 1809.

Impressively, the William Blake Gallery, an offshoot of John Windle’s Blake-centric antiquarian bookstore down the hall, has a five-year lease. Beginning with the inaugural series of prints on display, it will rotate through its collection and mount three or four shows a year, all open to the public (although the door may be locked for security reasons). Beyond Blake’s own work, Windle plans to hang contemporary exhibits from contemporary artists influenced by him.

Calling the gallery’s existence an “extraordinary concatenation of events,” Windle notes that many of the holdings assembled themselves almost as if by magic. Private collectors lent out works that hadn’t been seen since the 1920s. Less than a month after the lease at 49 Geary fell into place, Blake scholar Bob Essick of the University of California at Riverside discovered an engraving on eBay. There is a copy of the frontispiece to Blake’s 1802 Adam Naming the Beasts, one incomplete version of which sold for nearly $100,000. (They’re rare, in part, because — as Essick puts it — “Blake couldn’t give it away, like so much of what he did.”) The world of Blake collectors is a rarefied, insular one: Many have insisted upon anonymity to the point of keeping the state they reside in a secret.

Even if you lack sufficient knowledge of art history to contextualize Blake within the standard practices of his day — which he helped refine, inventing his own method of color printing that he hybridized with hand-finished work — the gallery is a treat. But because Blake was trained as engraver and printer as well as an artist, the question of what is “original” can be fuzzier than it is with other artists. Many of Blake’s prized works were originally commissions, as the dreamy watercolors and rather-less-than-orthodox adaptations of Biblical narratives put off the London art establishment even at the height of the Romantic period. But Blake’s ambition only grew, even if his fame didn’t until decades after his death: Toward the end of his life, he executed a series of 100 large watercolors based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Works like The Book of Job, represented here in all 21 pages, reveal a master craftsman who was not content to remain a commercial artisan, churning out illustrations for his patrons.


Nerd Out: Nation’s First Art Gallery Dedicated to William Blake Opens in SF

More News, from 7×7:

by Anna Volpicelli

Calling all romantics! San Francisco is about to become the destination for connoisseurs of the prolific art work of William Blake. Yes, that William Blake.

When it opens its doors in the art hub that is 49 Geary Street this October, The William Blake Gallery will be the world’s first and only space dedicated to the famed English artist who, though he may be best known for his Romantic poems including Night and The Tyger, was also a stunningly prolific artist and printmaker whose etchings, engravings, and paintings illustrated his own poetic volumes as well as such other master works of literature as Dante’s Divine Comedy. The new Union Square gallery will exhibit more than 1,000 pieces of Blake’s work, including fine engravings and watercolors,as well as reproductions of his writings. It’s kind of strange and amazing, right?

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SFARTS.ORG : The William Blake Gallery Opening Reception and Launch

The William Blake Gallery from

Antiquarian bookseller John Windle opens first exhibition space dedicated to the iconic artist in over 200 years. The first physical space exclusively dedicated to Blake’s work in over two hundred years, The William Blake Gallery will display over 1,000 original blake pieces alongside thousands of reproductions of the artist’s own writings and artwork.

This is what SF/Arts curator Christian L. Frock had to say about Opening Reception and Launch :

“Longtime rare book dealer John Windle has opened a gallery entirely devoted to the work of 19th century English poet, artist and engraver William Blake, an unconsidered in his time and massively influential master of the Romantic age, known for his complex narratives and wildly imaginative depictions of innocence, evil, loss and redemption, among other preoccupations of the day. “


Rare Book Monthly: John Windle Antiquarian Books Opens William Blake Gallery In San Francisco

– by Susan Halas

Though in his own day William Blake (1757-1827) was little known and often ridiculed as “mad,” he is today widely considered to be one of England’s most important creative figures. A self-styled mystic, visionary, religious rebel, free thinker, and person who thought himself to be in direct communication with God, Blake’s popularity continues to grow with the passage of time. Since his death his work has been discovered and rediscovered by succeeding generations who have admired his poetry, engravings, drawings and painting.


Fall preview: Bay Area art galleries

The William Blake Gallery in the News: 

from The Bay Area Reporter Online

by Sura Wood

William Blake Gallery In mid-October, rare book dealer John Windle opens a large gallery devoted solely to the Romantic poet, painter and printmaker William Blake, who created hundreds of artworks, from engraved illustrations and illuminated books to original writings and watercolors. The space makes its debut with an exhibition of hundreds of original pieces and thousands of reproductions related to literary texts like Dante’s Divine Comedy and Blake’s own writings, such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

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Bay Area fall art picks


B a y  A r e a  f a l l  a r t  p i c k s

By Charles Desmarais

William Blake Gallery: John Windle, an antiquarian bookseller with a track record of more than 40 years in San Francisco, has announced that he will open a gallery devoted to the art of the incomparable British artist and poet William Blake (1757-1827). Hundreds of original works are promised in a long-running retrospective, opening Oct. 14. 49 Geary St., S.F.