Maurice Sendak Illustrates William Blake’s Songs of Innocence

Where the wild beauty lives - Blake and Sendak create a beautiful harmony

In 1967, Maurice Sendak (June 10, 1928–May 8, 2012) created eight illustrations for William Blake’s Songs of Innocence (1789). The booklet’s 275 copies were given to friends of the publisher, The Bodley Head, as Christmas gifts to mark the company’s 80th anniversary.


The idea took shape while Sendak was a promotional tour for the British publication of his book Where the Wild Things Are (1963) in northern England. Sendak suffered a major heart attack and he attributed his survival to the quick thinking of his editor Judy Taylor in getting him to a hospital. In appreciation he prepared the drawings.

Above: Blake, America A Prophecy (LEFT); Sendak, My Brother’s Book (2012): frontispiece. Buy William Blake art in the shop


Not that it was an ordeal. Sendak adored Blake, becoming an avid collector of the English artist’s visionary works and hailing him “as from the first, my great and abiding love… my teacher in all things”. In 2001, he declared: “I love Blake; I have all my life.”

maurice sendak william blake

Both men shared the belief in the nature of childhood as a time of deep imagination. They’d explore the unknown which lies beneath the skin of things.

And reading their books is an all-bracing thing in which nothing sits still. Harmony and rhythm take you from picture to picture. Both artists’ clever use of lines creates a sense of animation. Colours throb on the page. Their’s is visual storytelling at its best as they show us what cannot be easily told but can be understood in an flash.


maurice sendak william blake bodley


And like with Blake, there’s music is Sendak’ work. Where The Wild Things Are was made into an opera in 1980. He designed productions of The Nutcracker and The Magic Flute. And as he said of Blake’s songs:

How beautifully his Songs of Innocence and of Experience could be set to music, and how beautifully Blake did set them. The intensely personal images seem the very embodiment of his mystical poetry. His ingenious and wonderfully ornamental interweavings of illustrations, lettering and color visually animate the spirit of the poetry and create a lyrical vision of otherworldliness. And it is all expressed with an economy only the masters achieved.

– Maurice Sendak


maurice sendak william blake


Via: Jonkers, Philip Nel

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