Bulletin / Philadelphia Museum of Art. Vol. 67, no. 307 (July-September 1972). Pp. 34. $1; The Pickering Manuscript / William Blake. Introduction by Charles Ryskamp. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1972. Pp. 6 + 22. $3
The entire July-September issue of the Philadelphia Museum’s Bulletin for 1972 is devoted to an illustrated essay by Martin Butlin: The Blake Collection of Mrs. William T. Tonner. This publication marks an event of the first importance to those interested in Blake, the gift of eleven works from Mrs. Tonner’s estate, which as Mr. Butlin says “promotes the Museum at one bound into the ranks of leading American Blake collections.” All the pictures are reproduced—one (the beautiful Nativity painted for Butts) in color, the rest in halftone along with six other pictures and one inscription. Mr. Butlin’s commentary is both cogent and informative, so that it is not so much necessary to review this publication as to call attention to its contents.
Four other Butts pictures are included in the Tonner gift: Christ Baptizing, Mary Magdalene Washing Christ’s Feet, Samson Subdued, and Jephthah Met by his Daughter, all watercolors. The Samson is informatively reproduced with its companion picture, Samson Breaking his Bonds from the collection of Mrs. Landon K. Thorne. There is also the watercolor Malevolence, which gave rise to Blake’s imbroglio with Dr. Trusler and hence to one of Blake’s most spirited defenses of his art. Perhaps the most important single picture in the collection is the color print God Judging Adam, which Butlin considers “the most dramatic copy” of the three known examples.1↤ 1 Butlin points out that for the Tate copy of this work Blake received one guinea from Thomas Butts, giving the U. S. equivalent as about $2.50. It is only fair to Butts, however, to remember that both the guinea and the dollar are not, alas, what they once were. In 1793, for example, Blake advertised America at 10s 6d; and in 1806, the year of the receipt for God Judging Adam, Blake sold John Flaxman a “singularly grand drawing of the Last Judgment” for one guinea (Bentley, Blake Records, p. 575). The four remaining designs are the sketch for The Sacrifice of Isaac, the Flaxmanesque Warring Angels, the drawing of The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife, and A Destroying Deity. The last named is perhaps the most interesting of begin page 79 | the four. Butlin dates it very late (c. 1825-26), comparing the figure’s webbed wings with those in the tempera Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils. There is also something in the sculpture-like massiveness of the figure which recalls some of the illustrations to the Inferno.
Butlin’s valuable pamphlet is a kind of hors d’oeuvre which makes us all the more anticipate the feast of his forthcoming complete catalogue of Blake’s paintings, watercolors, and drawings. Conversely, The Pickering Manuscript is a welcome dessert, following what the Newsletter’s reviewer called “the definitive catalogue of one of the last three great Blake collections in private hands”: The Blake Collection of Mrs. Landon K. Thorne by G. E. Bentley, Jr.2↤ 2 Robert Essick, Newsletter 21, p. 26. That catalogue was published by the Morgan Library in conjunction with its exhibition of the Thorne collection; now we are informed in Charles Ryskamp’s brief Introduction to The Pickering Manuscript, that Mrs. Thorne gave the Manuscript itself to the Morgan Library at the end of 1971, thus adding even further to the Library’s magnificent Blake collection. The fact that the entire Manuscript is here reproduced in facsimile for the first time speaks for itself. We might, however, reiterate a point made by John E. Grant in Newsletter 21: with the ever-growing interest in Blake, facsimiles now perform two functions—they make material widely available, and they also reduce unnecessary wear on the originals. The Pickering Manuscript should serve both purposes admirably.
Morton D. Paley is Executive Editor of the Newsletter.