William Blake, The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve, circa 1826. Pen and tempera, Tate Gallery, London, England.
William Blake (1757–1827) is more commonly known as one of the greatest poets in the English language, but he also ranks among the most original visual artists of the romantic era.
He trained as a visual artist, serving an apprenticeship with a commercial engraver before entering the Royal Academy Schools at the age of 22. Later in life the Bible became the focus of Blake’s visual art. His most loyal patron was Thomas Butts, a prosperous Swedenborgian. During the decade 1799–1809, Butts commissioned from Blake a series of illustrations of the Bible that included about 50 tempera paintings and more than 80 watercolors.
The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve is a rare subject matter for art. This scene is not depicted in the Bible (see Gen 4). In Blake's dramatic visual story, as in all his work, ideas were more important than realistic representations, and his work contrasts the rational order of the 18th century and was a conscious reaction against it. This piece shows Adam and Eve discovering Abel's body as Cain prepares to bury it. The dark gash of the grave separates the fleeing Cain from his parents. The postures of the parents evoke the horror and grief of the scene. Cain's horror and guilt are depicted through his lunging pose and facial expression.