And the Winner of the Death Mask Beauty Contest is...

By Andréa Ferrol


...William Blake! Forget about L'Inconnue de la Seine, the unidentified woman whose putative death mask was all the rage around 1900. No death mask seems quite as charismatic as Blake's, emanating an uncompromising sternness of character. Except...this is not a death mask! Although commonly known as Blake's death mask, it is actually his life mask; the plaster cast of Blake's head was made by the sculptor James Deville around 1823, four years before Blake's death. It belongs to the National Portrait Gallery in London. 

Interestingly, Francis Bacon made a series of paintings based on Blake's life mask, the Study for Portrait I-IV (after the Life Mask of William Blake) (1955).

Apparently Bacon loved Blake's poems, but hated his paintings, undoubtedly owing to his dislike of "illustrative painting", documented in David Sylvester's book Interviews with Francis Bacon (1975). Strange, considering the somewhat "illustrative" quality of his own paintings.