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John Linnell

William Blake, by John Linnell
William Blake, by John Linnell

John Linnell (1792–1882), having studied at the Royal Academy Schools in London, prospered as a painter of portraits and landscapes. Left is a view of Primrose Hill in London [PD.16-1970] that he drew in 1811, early in his career. At least as significant and notable as Linnell’s own artistic work, however, were his activities as a patron and adviser to other artists.

In 1818 he met the ageing William Blake, with whom he remained friendly until the latter’s death in 1827. He became an important patron to Blake in the last years of his life, commissioning a set of engravings illustrating the Book of Job, and buying the watercolours that Blake made for Milton's Paradise Regained. Both sets of illustrations are now in the Fitzwilliam.

At the same time as Blake was working on the 'Job' series, Linnell painted a miniature portrait of his friend shown above in watercolour on ivory.

As well as buying and commissioning work from Blake, Linnell introduced him to a new generation of English artists, among them Samuel Palmer who was to become Linnell’s son-in-law. Palmer was a leading figure in a group of visionary young artists who called themselves ‘The Ancients', young men bound together by their admiration for William Blake, at whose house they would sometimes meet, and Renaissance masters such as Albrecht Dürer and Michelangelo.

Although the two men later fell out, Linnell was an important influence on Palmer early on in his career, and he was later to record in a notebook,

'... by the time I had practised for about five years I entirely lost all feeling for art ... But it pleased God to send Mr Linnell as a good angel from Heaven to pluck me from the pit of modern art ...'.

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