Martin Butlin. The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake. Two Volumes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981. $300.
We have waited a long time for a complete and authoritative catalogue raisonné of Blake’s paintings and drawings. William Michael Rossetti made the first attempt, published in the second volume of Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake, 1863. A revised version appeared in the 1880 Life, but it too is seriously flawed by Rossetti’s errors, paucity of basic information on sizes, media, and provenances, and an inability to control a tendency toward evaluative and impressionistic descriptions. Yet Rossetti’s lists are distinguished by having been compiled at a time when many works, including some now lost, were still in the possession of original purchasers or their immediate descendants.
Archibald G. B. Russell was the next to begin a complete catalogue. According to a handsome broadside prospectus,1↤ 1 A copy in my collection bears a handwritten note to a potential purchaser dated 17 September 1904. The prospective title was The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake, a Critical Study with a Catalogue Raisonné of His Works and Forty Plates in Photogravure and Colour. Methuen intended to publish Russell’s volume in 1905. He planned to include “an analysis of Blake’s art and the media employed by him,” and the two sample entries show that the catalogue would have been a considerable improvement over Rossetti’s work. Nothing seems to have come of Russell’s ambitious plans, although he did write the catalogues for the important Blake exhibitions at the National Gallery of British Art (now Tate Gallery) in 1913 and the Manchester Whitworth Institute (now Whitworth Art Gallery) in 1914, as well as a handlist of the W. Graham Robertson collection.2↤ 2 The last was published in the Burlington Magazine, 37 (1920), 27-39.
In the world of academic art history, a catalogue raisonné is generally considered the most important scholarly work on an artist, the foundation and impetus for all other types of studies. By the late 1920s, Blake enthusiasts must have considered a new catalogue of his drawings and paintings a primary requisite in the field. By the next decade, Ruthven Todd, with the encouragement and assistance of Geoffrey Keynes, began a major effort to meet this need. Todd worked on his catalogue for at least a dozen years, and he produced several lengthy drafts. His labors were well advanced by 1942, for in July of that year he presented to Graham Robertson a seventy-five page typescript album of Blake’s works in Robertson’s collection based — as Todd states in a letter accompanying the album—on his “big catalogue.”3↤ 3 The album and letter are now in my collection. Robertson may have used some of Todd’s information when the collector wrote his holograph catalogue (also in my possession) of his Blakes. This was posthumously published as The Blake Collection of W. Graham Robertson, ed. Kerrison Preston (London: Faber and Faber, 1952). This larger work may have been the typescript of 231 pages, now among Todd’s papers at the University of Leeds, containing annotations by Keynes datable up to 1946. But the final, longest version of Todd’s work is a typescript of 553 pages, including indices and numerous handwritten additions by the author datable to at least 1947.4↤ 4 The annotations include references to the 1947 Blake exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin, Paris, but there is no mention of the great Robertson auction two years later. Sometime between 1966 and 1968, 5↤ 5 Among the Todd papers at Leeds is a letter of 25 February 1966 to Todd from Rosenwald in which Rosenwald states his willingness to receive the “Blake bibliography” (i.e., catalogue?). In a letter to Rosenwald of 26 December 1968, Todd notes that his draft catalogue was then at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. I have not surveyed the Todd papers for other references to the catalogue; my comments here are based on a typescript handlist of the collection at Leeds. Todd presented this catalogue to Lessing J. Rosenwald, who in turn gave it to the Library of Congress. The project apparently ended there, still some distance from publication, although xerox copies of the LC typescript have become something of an underground classic among Blakeans.begin page 23 | ↑ back to top
Martin Butlin has at last succeeded where other scholars and their publishers had failed. His work was originally sponsored by the Blake Trust under the guidance of its chairman, Sir Geoffrey Keynes. Although Butlin made use of both typescripts of Todd’s catalogue, he spent more than ten years checking all of Todd’s information, bringing it up to date, and personally inspecting almost every drawing and painting attributed to Blake. A nearly finished version of his work was partially printed in galley proof by the Trianon Press, which intended to publish the catalogue in a handsome format with a limited number of high-quality illustrations. The death in 1977 of the Trianon’s director and moving spirit, Arnold Fawcus, brought an end to the direct involvement of that press. Yale University Press in London took over and, with the financial assistance of Paul Mellon and the Yale Center for British Art, published the two-volume catalogue reviewed here. It is most appropriately dedicated to Arnold Fawcus and the members of the Blake Trust who did not live to see its completion.
The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake is an extraordinary work of scholarship. We have at one stroke moved from having no catalogue raisonné of Blake’s art to having one of the finest ever written on any artist. In the study of Blake’s drawings and paintings, Butlin’s work will have the same historical importance as Keynes’ bibliography and edition of the 1920s have had in the study of Blake’s writings. Serious students of Blake’s art will have to use this catalogue continually as their basic reference tool; those who do not attend to the facts Butlin sets forth will be doing themselves (and Blake) a disservice. Let me also recommend to the subscribers of this journal that they read the catalogue word for word, cover to cover. I cannot expect most Blakeans to relish the details of provenances as fervently as I, but soaking in so many minute particulars on size, media, pentimenti, signatures, dating, and history has been for me an incomparable educational experience.
Butlin covers all of the drawings and paintings that can reasonably be attributed to Blake, plus color printed etchings and engravings which one can reasonably assume were originally printed by Blake as separate impressions. All these works are organized into twenty-nine roughly chronological sections, followed by a list of forty-nine miscellaneous untraced works, catalogues of works by Blake’s wife and brother, and a table of watermarks. The information in each entry is set forth in the same form as Butlin’s catalogue of the Blakes at the Tate Gallery.6↤ 6 William Blake, A Complete Catalogue of the Works in the Tate Gallery, rev. ed. (London: Tate Gallery, 1971). There is no need for me to summarize that format here; suffice it to say that everything is clear, precise, straightforward, and thorough. The volume of text (vol. I) concludes with an index to subjects and titles and a general index that includes the names of all owners, past and present. The only improvement I can suggest for the latter is that the long lists of entry numbers following “Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd.” and “Sotheby, Parke Bernet and Co.” could have been usefully divided according to the dates of the auctions recorded therein.
One of the more remarkable features of this remarkable book is the second volume, containing 1,194 illustrations (the publisher advertises only 1,158). Except for seven series of drawings, reproduced elsewhere in recent years, and a few slight verso sketches, every extant drawing and painting is reproduced. Butlin has provided both a catalogue and, in a sense, an “edition” of Blake’s images. This pictorial edition can be completed with the addition of the following reproductions of series of works:
Tiriel illustrations. All extant reproduced in G. E. Bentley, Jr., ed., William Blake: Tiriel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967).Thus a library containing a mere eight titles can now provide reproductiosn of almost every extant drawing and painting by Blake, his wife, and his brother. To this collection we need to add only one further volume, David Bindman’s The Complete Graphic Works of William Blake (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), to cover all images invented by Blake. The only lacunae remaining are some images executed but not invented by him7↤ 7 Most of the reproductive book illustrations to c. 1796 are reproduced in Roger R. Easson and Robert N. Essick, William Blake: Book Illustrator, Vol. II (Memphis, Tenn.: American Blake Foundation, 1979). All the separate copy plates will be reproduced in a new catalogue of the separate plates to be published by Princeton University Press. and the many hand colored or color printed copies of the illuminated books that have not yet been reproduced. The doors of perception are now almost fully open. begin page 24 | ↑ back to top
Blake’s Notebook. David V. Erdman and Donald K. Moore, eds., The Notebook of William Blake, 2nd ed. (New York: Readex Books, 1977).
Night Thoughts illustrations. John E. Grant, Edward J. Rose, Michael J. Tolley, eds., co-ordinating editor David V. Erdman, Blake’s Designs for Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts,” 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980).
Illustrations to Gray’s Poems. Irene Tayler, Blake’s Illustrations to the Poems of Gray (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971). Complete color facsimiles in Geoffrey Keynes, William Blake’s Watercolour Designs for the Poems of Thomas Gray (Paris: Trianon Press for the Blake Trust, 1972).
Four Zoas Manuscript. G. E. Bentley, Jr., ed., William Blake: Vala, or the Four Zoas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963). David Erdman and Cettina Magno are currently preparing a new reproduction of the complete manuscript.
The Blake-Varley Sketchbook. Martin Butlin, ed., The Blake-Varley Sketchbook of 1819 (London: Heinemann, 1969).
Illustrations to The Divine Comedy. Albert S. Roe, Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953). Also available in portfolios issued in 1922 and 1968, and in Milton Klonsky, Blake’s Dante (New York: Harmony Books, 1980).
Butlin and his publisher have generously included 251 color plates. These have been judiciously selected and include the early series illustrating the story of Joseph, all five versions of “Pestilence,” the six water colors in the extra-illustrated second folio of Shakespeare (British Museum), all eight series of illustrations to Milton’s poems, and the Butts set of Job water colors (Pierpont Morgan Library). With so many color reproductions it is not too surprising that the quality is uneven. Many plates look lovely, with rich and presumably true tones, but some that I have compared against the originals in the Huntington Library fall short of adequate. In the Paradise Lost series of twelve designs, the warm browns and cool greens and grays of the originals have uniformly turned a gelid steel-blue. Perhaps someone is already busy writing an article, based on these reproductions, interpreting Blake’s changes between the icy conception of hell (and Eden?) in the Thomas-Huntington set of 1807 and the warmer climes pictured in the Butts set of the next year. Oddly enough, the “Satan, Sin and Death” from the Butts group, detached from its companions and now with the Huntington series, has much better color fidelity. The fault seems to have been not with the ektachrome transparencies but with Yale’s printing of them, as I can testify is the case with the sickly green reproduction of the version of “Pestilence” in my collection. The blue shift also infects the Huntington series illustrating Comus and On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, although less seriously than in the Paradise Lost water colors. I do not decry the presence of the color plates, but one must certainly be careful when using them. Those who need guaranteed accuracy in their color perceptions must still visit the originals.
A reviewer could legitimately cease at this point, rounding off his efforts with a final display of congratulatory adjectives and a prophecy of the book’s undoubted authority and utility for years to come. I intend, however, to take a leisurely tour of the entire catalogue, pausing along the way to point out curious features and interesting prospects. I have more than one excuse for taking this approach. By at least noting all thirty-two sections of the catalogue, I hope to indicate something of its scope, as well as provide an outline of Blake’s artistic career. There are many discoveries recorded by Butlin, easily overlooked among the great mass of information he presents, and simply to highlight and summarize these will serve a purpose. Although remarkably few for a text of 694 pages, there are some typos and simple errors of fact that deserve correction in a work of such surpassing importance. In some cases I offer counter-arguments to Butlin’s interpretations and attributions—not because his line of thinking is weak, but because there is another side to the issue that deserves exploration. My more extended annotations to the catalogue are often idiosyncratic and never definitive. They may, however, indicate some ways Butlin’s great work can stimulate thought, both concrete and speculative, and provide the foundation for future studies of Blake the artist. At the very least, the following will show that there is room enough in this catalogue for all of us to ride our hobbyhorses.
I. Blake’s Apprenticeship: Westminster Abbey, 1772-1779
Most readers will probably be surprised to learn that at least forty-eight drawings have survived from Blake’s apprentice years. Almost all of these were prepared in connection with James Basire and the Society of Antiquaries. They demonstrate Blake’s early involvement with medieval history and art and the exacting trade of accurately reproducing architectural and sculptural antiquities. Blake’s later development of a pictorial aesthetic centered on line and precision has its practical antecedents in these early projects.
The work for Basire falls into three groups. Two drawings record the opening of the tomb of Edward I at Westminster Abbey on 2 May 1774 under the direction of Sir Joseph Ayloffe. At a slightly later date, Blake made at least nine drawings for plates in Ayloffe’s Account of Some Ancient Monuments in Westminster Abbey (1780). There are also replicas of seven of the Ayloffe drawings, apparently made for Richard Gough because they are now with his collection at the Bodleian Library. Butlin also attributes these to Blake (#12-18),8↤ 8 I will use this form of reference to Butlin’s entry numbers thoughout the remainder of this review. These numbers may take on the same authority long since awarded to Keynes’ letter designations for the illuminated books. although one cannot rule out the possibility that they were executed by another hand at a later date. Butlin states that Ayloffe’s Account was “reissued in the second volume of Vetusta Monumenta in 1789.” I have never seen a copy of Ayloffe’s essay other than as part of the Vetusta, a work published in parts and bound by purchasers in various formats with general title pages. Some copies containing Ayloffe’s Account are dated 1789 on the general title page, but others are undated. It is not at all certain that copies of Ayloffe’s work bound in the Vetusta represent a “reissue.” All copies of his Account may have been printed in 1780, the date on its title page.
The third and largest group of apprentice drawings (#19-47) were prepared for engraving in Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments, not published until 1786. Butlin adds several works to Keynes’ list of drawings in the Bodleian for both Ayloffe and Gough, and corrects two captions in Blake Studies in which three of the Ayloffe originals in the Society of Antiquaries are labeled as the Bodleian replicas.9↤ 9 See “The Engraver’s Apprentice,” pp. 14-30 and pls. 5 and 8 in Keynes, Blake Studies, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971). As it does so often, Butlin’s catalogue has clarified and completed the factual basis for work by other scholars.
Butlin’s attributions give additional support to the belief that the plates in Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments picturing tombs and statues in Westminster Abbey, signed by Basire as delineator and engraver, are indeed based on drawings by Blake. The catalogue of twenty-nine drawings engraved on twenty-two plates in Gough adds two plates to Bentley’s list10↤ 10 G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Books (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), pp. 567-68. of twenty (four very tentative) and accords with the list in Easson & Essick with but one exception. Butlin does not attribute the drawing of “Eleanor Dutchess of Glocester 1399” (Gough plate LX; no. 19 in Easson & Essick) to Blake.11↤ 11 William Blake: Book Illustrator, II, 55-63. Even though it is signed “Basire. del,” like the other Gough drawings in the Bodleian, Butlin does not include it because it “seems to be different in style from the other works associated with Blake” (p. 6). It certainly begin page 25 | ↑ back to top is in a different style, as is the engraving, but this might be explained by the fact that Eleanor’s monument is a floor slab inlaid in lines of brass, whereas the other monuments Blake drew are three-dimensional sculptures or bas-reliefs in stone. The artist may simply be adopting his style to suit his subject and the accuracy required of archaeological illustration—an early example of the “appropriate execution” Blake commended years later in the Public Address. Further, if the drawing is by some other apprentice or journeyman employed by Basire, he must have sent two employees to Westminster Abbey. This seems unlikely, particularly if Malkin is right about Blake’s having been sent to the Abbey in order to separate him from contentious workers in Basire’s shop.12↤ 12 Benjamin Heath Malkin, A Father’s Memoirs of his Child (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1806), pp. xix-xx.
The following are comments on individual works listed by Butlin’s entry numbers. I will append such lists to most of the following discussions of Butlin’s chronological sections.
#3, “Countess Aveline, Side View of Her Tomb” (Society of Antiquaries, London). As Butlin indicates, the “J Basire” signature on this and most of Blake’s other drawings executed for his master has the first two letters in monogram, sharing a common vertical. Others bear the JB initials alone, similarly joined. Is this the immediate predecessor to Blake’s Night Thoughts monogram? In Basire’s version, the top loop of the B continues to the left, arching slightly over the J. Blake’s circular extension of the lower loop of the B in his monogram may be a modification and magnification of his master’s distinctive signature.
It would have been helpful, and have accorded perfectly with Butlin’s usual practice, to have included cross-references here and for #4, 5, 7-10 to the replica drawings in the Bodleian (#12-18).
#38, “Queen Philippa, Side View of Her Tomb” (Bodleian Library). The reference should be to Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments plate 48, not plate “42.”
#50, “Figure from Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgment’” (Huntington Library). Butlin expresses considerable doubt about the attribution of this oil painting (illus. 1) to Blake, but includes it nonetheless. I have no doubt that this is not by Blake. As Butlin states, the “style and technique” of the painting are “completely uncharacteristic” of Blake’s work in the same early period. The total absence of drawn outlines in ink or paint clearly distinguishes it from the Gough and Ayloffe drawings, also of the 1770s, and the designs for English history (#51-70) of c. 1779. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how a copy of one of Michelangelo’s figures could be less like Blake’s style as either a careful copyist or an inventor of original compositions. The bold signature and date lower right on this oil (“W. Blake 1776”) are, as Butlin states, “sufficiently unlike Blake’s usual forms to be inadequate evidence for his authorship.” According to the Huntington’s catalogue of its Blake collection, the library’s founder acquired the painting “in New York, 1916.”13↤ 13 C. H. Collins Baker, Catalogue of William Blake’s Drawings and Paintings in the Huntington Library, rev. by R. R. Wark (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1963), p. 53. I have not been able to locate any further information on the acquisition of the painting or documents supporting the catalogue statement. I suspect that this means only c. 1916 and that the purchase was made while Huntington was residing in New York, but not necessarily from a New York dealer. On 20 February of the next year, Huntington purchased from Rosenbach of Philadelphia the Comus illustrations and a portfolio of drawings with bold Blake signatures for $17,200 the lot.14↤ 14 According to a note kept with the Comus water colors. Butlin, #527, states that these were purchased in 1916 for $29,000 (apparently the price at which Rosenbach offered the drawings in his 1916 catalogue no. 18, item 17). None of the latter group is by Blake. That the signatures are intentional forgeries is confirmed by the signature of Henry Pierce Bone (English artist, 1779-1855) on one drawing—not quite completely rubbed off and painted over. One drawing has a date of “17—,” trimmed off by the edge of the sheet, as well as the signature. No two signatures in this collection are identical, but all area of the same general character and to my eye seem to have been made by the same hand. The inscription on this painting after Michelangelo fits comfortably into this family of fakes.begin page 26 | ↑ back to top
II. Illustrations to English History, c. 1779 and c. 1793
David Bindman has already discussed Blake’s early series of illustrations to English history in some detail and has at least noted works in the later groups.15↤ 15 “Blake’s ‘Gothicised Imagination’ and the History of England,” pp. 29-49 in William Blake: Essays in Honour of Sir Geoffrey Keynes, ed. Morton D. Paley and Michael Phillips (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973). See also Bindman’s Blake as an Artist (Oxford: Phaidon, 1977), pp. 22-27. Blake as an Artist generally holds up very well when matched against Butlin’s detailed information on the works surveyed by Bindman. Yet the coordinated information that Butlin presents on sizes, media, and datings allows one to see, more clearly than ever before, Blake’s long involvement with these historical subjects and his attempts to develop them into a significant series of illustrations. They comprise one of his most important artistic projects from c. 1779 to at least 1793. Almost all the compositions fall into five groups, as listed below in chronological order.16↤ 16 Groups a and b are intermixed by Butlin; c and d are engravings and therefore not catalogued by him. The same subjects do not necessarily reappear in successive groups.
a. The small drawings of c. 1779 (#51-53, 54[?],17↤ 17 Entry numbers followed by a question mark indicate untraced works which have an uncertain relationship to the group. 57, 60, 61[?], 62, 64, 65[?], 67, perhaps 184 and 197A—see below for a discussion of the last).
b. The large drawings of c. 1793, showing a strong neoclassical influence. These compositions began as outline pencil drawings of about 30 × 45 cm.18↤ 18 The measurements I give for groups are approximate averages. Individual compositions may vary considerably from these averages, but not by so much as to suggest another group. (#56, 58, 68); at least a few were developed into carefully executed water colors of about 20 × 28 cm. (#55, 69) or 32 × 50 cm. (#59, 63 [the untraced but presumably necessary preliminary drawing for the engraving “Edward & Elenor”], 66). Butlin’s comparatively late dating of these works lends further credence to a late dating of the large “Edward & Elenor” engraving and, by inference, of the first state of the “Job” and “Ezekiel” separate plates.19↤ 19 See Essick, William Blake, Printmaker (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp. 64-68, 186, 219-20; Figs. 60, 61.
c. “The History of England, a small book of Engravings” advertised by Blake in his prospectus “To The Public” of 10 October 1793. No copy has ever been traced or described. Several drawings in Blake’s Notebook, and a list of subjects on page 116, may relate to this set of plates. It is of course possible that the “book” was never engraved, although every other work listed by title and price in the 1793 prospectus was published.
d. A projected series of large plates on “the History of England” mentioned as being in preparation in the 1793 prospectus. Blake may have intended to base these on the 1793 watercolors (group b, above), but only “Edward & Elenor” is known.
e. A group of compositions on the themes of war and plague (#184-97), all listed by Butlin in the fourth section of his catalogue. These probably began with #184, “Pestilence,” of c. 1779-1780, the style and size (13.8 × 18.6 cm.) of which strongly suggest that it was one of the series (a, above) of small illustrations to English history. This design became detached from the historical series and was developed independently through at least four further versions (#185, 190, 192, 193), culminating in the “Pestilence” of c. 1805 (Boston Museum of Fine Arts). To this subject Blake added three companions, “Fire,” “War,” and “Famine,” in 1805 (#194-96). Another design, “A Breach in a City,” developed through three drawings (#188, 189, 191), seems to be part of this group and culminates in the “War” of 1805 (#195). An interesting borrowing of motifs from this group is the use of the bellman and man supporting a slumping woman, lower left in the first two “Pestilence” compositions, on plate 10 of Europe. The “Pestilence” and “Breach in a City” subjects began as members of a historical group, evolved into independent works in more than one medium, and then were rejoined in their final versions.
As is so typical of Blake’s habits as artist and poet, what began as an interest in specific historical subjects grew into a concern with universal categories of human experience and consciousness: not the London plague of 1665, but pestilence in all times and places; not the fire of 1666, but fire as metaphor for a host of conditions and processes. All these subjects and themes find their most complex treatment in the illuminated books, although they are not the only progeny of Blake’s early interest in historical compositions.
Comments on individual entries follow.
#51, “The Landing of Brutus in England,” and #52, “A Landing in Britain” (both Robert H. Taylor Collection). Butlin points out the “frieze-like” relationship between these two drawings. Although all the other history designs of c. 1779 are self-contained, perhaps Blake was thinking of his compositions as wall decorations in a large room with some designs arranged as a frieze. James Barry had begun his paintings for the Society of Arts in 1777, and some of these are greatly elongated in an enormous frieze, while others have more conventional height-width ratios.20↤ 20 See William L. Pressly, The Life and Art of James Barry (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 86-122. Perhaps Barry’s vast undertaking fired the imagination of his ambitious young admirer. Years later, Blake continued to dream of such projects, describing in an advertisement to his 1809 exhibition “The Invention of a portable Fresco” suitable for decorating “Westminster Hall, or the walls of any other great Building.”
#59, “The Ordeal of Queen Emma” (Private Collection, Great Britain). The reference should be to Plate 177, not “176.”
#60, “The Death of Earl Goodwin” (British Museum). The reference should be to Plate 178, not “177.”
III. Miscellaneous Early Works, Mainly in Pen and Wash, c. 1775-1790
Every catalogue needs omnibus sections to hold everything from the singular masterpiece to the detritus of an artist’s career. Butlin requires only four. The variety of styles exhibited by the works in this first miscellaneous section reveal Blake’s reactions to the cross-currents of influences affecting most of his contemporaries in the 1780s, that remarkable decade in the history of English art when not only Blake but Stothard, Romney, and Flaxman were searching for their own styles. The presences of Mortimer and Barry are felt in these drawings; certainly Stothard is there, perhaps Romney; and the shifts between rococo energy and sweetness and neoclassical idealism and restraint are clearly present. The variety of subjects and styles offers begin page 27 | ↑ back to top many ways of grouping these works. But let me reduce the possible categories to a mere nine as a way of indicating the range and something of the structure of Blake’s endeavors, 1775-1790.
a. Academic studies taken from the life or sculptured or engraved models (#71-73). These include the recto-verso sketches later developed into “Albion rose,” and probably reflect Blake’s brief attendance in the Royal Academy school. To this small group we can add the carefully executed copies (c. 1785) of Adamo Ghisi’s engravings after Michelangelo’s Sistine frescoes (#167-70).21↤ 21 See Jenijoy La Belle, “Blake’s Visions and Re-visions of Michelangelo,” in Blake in His Time, ed. Robert N. Essick and Donald Pearce (Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press, 1978), pp. 13-22.
b. A large group of biblical subjects, including Saul and Samuel (#74-75, 117), Abraham and Isaac (#108-109), Moses and the Ten Commandents (#111-115), Manoah (#116), and Saul and David (#118-119A). The collection is far too diverse to be called a series or even an interrelated group; they could well be independent compositions not executed with any overall scheme or ultimate purpose in mind. Yet some may be part of a long, multifaceted development of several series of Bible illustrations loosely paralleling the pictures of English history. The graphic renderings, finished and projected, of biblical and historical subjects are grouped together in Blake’s prelusive comments in his 1793 prospectus. Important subgroups in the biblical works are the three finished water colors of the story of Joseph (#155-57, exhibited in 1785) and their extant preliminary sketches (#158 and 159 recto and verso), the Job and Ezekiel drawings (#162-66) leading to the large separate plates, and six versions of a “Good Farmer” composition (#120-25; see illus. 2-4). This last group shows Blake’s way of meditating on paper, working up and reworking the same composition over a period of about five years. Butlin is particularly good at briefly indicating erasures and the successive changes from one version to the next.
c. Seven Shakespeare heads (#84; illus. 5-6). Butlin dates these c. 1780, but they look somewhat more accomplished than other works of that period and show hints of the neoclassicism of the Joseph series (see b, above) exhibited in 1785. I would suggest c. 1783. See also comments on #84.7, below.
d. A narrative group on murder, exile, and reunion (#85-88 rectos, versos of 85 and 86, perhaps 90 and 91). Some motifs, particularly the position of the figures’ heads and the tendril designs on the curtain in #85 recto, the general style, and the apparent subjects of this group22↤ 22 #85-88 and their related verso sketches have been discussed by Michael Tolley, “Some Blake Puzzles—Old and New,” and John E. Grant, “Addenda and Some Solutions to Tolley’s Blake Puzzles,” Blake Studies, 3 (1971), 107-35. suggest that it represents a preliminary form of a series similar to the Tiriel drawings. Butlin dates all but #90 to c. 1785-90, but their style suggests that they are prior to the Tiriel designs of c. 1789. Was there a (now lost) poem that this group illustrated? Arguments by analogy—i.e., the drawings are like the Tiriel illustrations, and thus there may have been a poem like Tiriel—take us close to the realm of pure speculation. Yet the query is the very sort that Butlin’s disciplined, factual catalogue often stimulates in its reader’s imagination.
e. A group picturing Satan confronting various allies and adversaries, very probably based on Paradise Lost (#101-105). #106, “Death Shaking thebegin page 28 | ↑ back to top
f. A group dealing with death and burial (#135-39, the last two untraced). This includes #136, “The Counsellor, King, Warrior, Mother and Child,” later developed into one of the illustrations to Robert Blair’s The Grave published in 1808. #135, “The Spirit of a Just Man Newly Departed Appearing to his Mourning Family” (illus. 7) was the basis for an emblem sketch on p. 61 of Blake’s Notebook, used in turn for plate 13 of The Gates of Paradise (illus. 8). Butlin’s cross-references, notes, and illustrations allow one to trace, more efficiently and thoroughly than ever before, many such histories of Blake’s compositions and motifs.
g. Illustrations to Robinson Crusoe, c. 1780-1785 (#140 recto, 141). This is the only group that may have had some connection with a commercial commission, although that seems unlikely even when Blake is illustrating an enormously popular text. Stothard’s Robinson Crusoe illustrations of 1781 were published in The Novelist’s Magazine, a series for which Blake began engraving plates no later than 1782. Stothard also produced a fine series of illustrations for an edition of Robinson Crusoe published in 1790 by John Stockdale, who employed Blake to engrave plates for his 1793 edition of Gay’s Fables. Perhaps Stothard’s work prompted Blake to try his hand at novel illustration. At the very least, his friend’s designs exemplify the context of commercial book illustration in which—or against which—Blake worked. That these two drawings are awkward and amateurish will not inhibit our fascination with them. Just what was the great man up to ?begin page 29 | ↑ back to top
Rossetti (Gilchrist, Life of Blake, 1863, II, 235) lists among Blake’s “works in colour” a “Robinson Crusoe” design with “a visionary effect of colour, like a transparency.” Butlin very tentatively identifies this description with #140 recto, but could Rossetti possibly describe this monochrome pen and indian ink sketch in such glowing terms and declare it “fine”? It seems likely that Rossetti is referring to yet a third Crusoe design, as Rodney M. Baine has suggested (“Blake and Defoe,” Blake Newsletter, 6 , 51-53).
h. The Tiriel illustrations (#198-200), grouped together in Butlin’s fifth section. Although this series was very probably intended for conventional intaglio etching/engraving, if intended for publication at all, these carefully executed monochrome drawings are Blake’s first known attempts at illustrating his own poetry. They are among the most accomplished works of his first thirty-five years. The invention, c. 1789, of “Illuminated Printing” (as Blake called his new medium in the 1793 prospectus) seems to have put a sudden end to such high-finish visual/verbal projects. It is difficult to overestimate the impact on Blake’s art of what was, at its inception, a merely technical innovation that must have seemed to his contemporaries as little more than a crude descent down the hierarchy of graphic media and genres.
i. The emblem series in Blake’s Notebook (#201) and other drawings related to The Gates of Paradise (#202-214; see illus. 9). All the Notebook drawings, whether emblems in the series first described by Erdman23↤ 23 In his facsimile edition of the Notebook, first published in 1973. or preliminaries for other designs, are gathered in Butlin’s sixth section. This section also includes some little-known drawings (illus. 10) of uncertain subject with only a distant relationship to the Notebook.
Comments on individual entries in sections III through VI follow.
#80, “Two Sketches of a Swordsman Standing over his Defeated Opponent” (National Gallery of Art). Butlin suggests that this sheet of recto-verso sketches once belonged to Mrs. William Dobinson, great-granddaughter of Thomas Chevalier, and comments that the only Blake work definitely known to have been owned by her is copy a of Visions of the Daughters of Albion. However, she also owned the second-state impressions of the “Job” and “Ezekiel” separate plates now in Keynes’ collection. According to Butlin’s provenance information, Mrs. Dobinson (or another “great-granddaughter” of Chevalier?) also owned #802, “Drawings from a Sketchbook” (Keynes Collection).
#84.7, “Prospero and Miranda” (Boston Museum of Fine Arts; illus. 5, bottom left). This Shakespeare design has usually been titled “Lear and Cordelia,” as has the etching/engraving of the image executed c. 1806-1808 by Thomas Butts, father and son.24↤ 24 Butlin states that there are five known proofs and that each represents “a different state.” Actually there are seven traced impressions in a total of four states. Butlin offers his retitling because “the types and hairstyles differ from No. 84.4” (“Cordelia and the Sleeping Lear,” illus. 6, top left). In #84.7, both figures are well-dressed and neatly groomed. If the design does illustrate Lear, it is probably based on an early scene in the play when Lear is accusing Cordelia of pridefulness and banishes her. Note that his gesture is very similar to one of Job’s accusatory friends in the separate plate, the begin page 30 | ↑ back to top earliest drawing for which (Butlin #162, illus. 11) also dates from the early to mid-1780s. Alternatively, the design could picture a much later scene when, with renewed composure, Lear says to Cordelia, “come, come, let’s away to prison” (V, iii, 8). But in #84.4, and Lear in #84.5 (illus. 6, top right), the characters are pictured during or just after they have undergone experiences that would dishevel and disconcert the best of us. The differences in expression and coiffure between #84.7 and the two scenes definitely from Lear may record the changes wrought in the same father and daughter. Butlin’s new title is not completely convincing.
#103, “Warring Angels: Michael Contending with Satan” (untraced since 1949). The medium is pencil and pen, not just pen.
#133 recto, “A Crouching Woman,” possibly later used for The Gates of Paradise (Pierpont Morgan Library). I suspect that her left hand rests on a mound of earth, not a “tortoise” as Butlin intriguingly describes it.
#163 recto, “The Complaint of Job,” and verso, “Standing Figure” (untraced since 1928). This drawing of an important subject was last recorded in a Sotheby’s auction, 17 December 1928, lot 138 from the collection of Miss Brenda G. Warr (£115 to Maggs). This auction catalogue gives the following description of the recto, not described by Butlin:
This drawing is only the most important of numerous lost works by Blake to have passed through Maggs Bros. Ltd., the venerable book dealer of Berkeley Square. Mr. Bryan Maggs has kindly searched for me through the company records and the fabled “Maggs basement,” but has turned up nothing of importance.
#164, “The Complaint of Job” (Fine Art Museums of San Francisco), and #166, “The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife” (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Butlin dates these beautiful companion drawings, like their far less skillful preliminaries, to c. 1785. Perhaps they were executed closer to their publication as prints in 1793. Both show the close-focus, almost claustrophobic sense of space also exploited for its emotional intensity by Barry. The face of Job’s wife in #164 is similar in outline and expression to, but even more accomplished in execution than, the standing woman in #189, “A Breach in a City” (Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh), dated by Butlin to c. 1790-1795. Blake may have begun, in about 1790, to execute finished preliminaries—some if not all based on earlier, cruder drawings—for his projected series of historical and biblical prints advertised in his 1793 prospectus.
#172, “Sketch for Engraving of Michelangelo after Fuseli, on a Drawing by Fuseli” (Essick Collection). Butlin dates Blake’s pencil sketch on Fuseli’s ink drawing to c. 1788 even though the plate for which the drawing is the preliminary was not published until 1801 in Fuseli’s Lectures on Painting. Butlin’s argument for this dating—that the plate in the Lectures is very close in “technique” to the frontispiece by Blake after Fuseli in Lavater’sbegin page 31 | ↑ back to top Aphorisms, 1788—is not very convincing. There is, however, a better reason for the c. 1788 date. The portrait of Michelangelo bears on its verso a pencil sketch by Fuseli very similar to—perhaps even a preliminary version of—the drawing for the Lavater frontispiece. It seems most unlikely that Fuseli would retain this piece of paper until c. 1801 and then use it for his Michelangelo portrait which Schiff has similarly dated to 1785-1790.25↤ 25 Gert Schiff, Johann Heinrich Füssli (Zurich: Verlag Berichthaus, 1973), I. 511. The rectos and versos of Fuseli’s drawings and the plates by Blake based on them are reproduced in Blake Newsletter 5 (1971-1972), 173-76. In the accompanying article Ruthven Todd speculates interestingly on the history of Fuseli’s Michelangelo and Aphorisms drawings. Blake owned both of these drawings by Fuseli until late in his life.
#175, “Figures from a Greek Vase, after D’Hancarville: A Bacchic Mystery” (British Museum). Butlin states that “the small tripod above the main figures shows that this is a place of oracles; the skull between one of the attendants’ feet, one of sacrifice.” Neither the tripod nor the skull appear in Butlin’s reproduction, Plate 217, and it is not clear which are the main figures and which the attendants.
#179A, “A Male Nude with an Urn, Copy from the Antique?” (estate of Theodore Besterman). The Blake signature looks right; the ink drawing, at first glance, looks very wrong. I do not find Butlin’s comparison with #82 recto, “Three Figures Under a Yoke with Two Children” (British Museum) to be very helpful. The three figures are generalized and rigid forms typical of Blake’s work, in spite of the wash background; the figure in #179A is carefully modeled with hatching and wash used for tonal effects. A more telling comparison is with the planographic transfer print, perhaps “Charity,” in the British Museum.26↤ 26 Reproduced in Bindman, Complete Graphic Works of Blake, pl. 8; Essick, Blake, Printmaker, Fig. 122. The hatching, and even the posture of the central figure, are remarkably similar. See also #201. 35, below.
#197A, “Searching Among the Dead on a Battlefield” (Private Collection, Great Britain). Bindman includes this drawing in his list of the series of small English history designs, c. 1779 (see section II, a, above), and gives it the title “The Finding of the Body of Harold.”27↤ 27 Blake: Essays in Honour of Keynes, ed. Paley and Phillips, p. 35. Although Bindman’s identification of the subject is far from certain, the drawing does seem to be part of the history series or very closely related to it. The size is about the same; and the gestures, underdrawing, and handling of washes are very similar to #51, “The Landing of Brutus in England.”
#201.35, “Emblem 16” in Blake’s Notebook, p. 35 (British Library). Neither Butlin nor any other Blake scholar has noted that this sketch is the basis, in reverse, for the “Charity” planographic print (see note 26). In the sketch, the central figure’s head leans to the left (right in the print) toward two children, one of whom holds the adult figure’s hand as in the print. The pair of children on the right embrace, as do the pair on the left in the print. The only motifs in the drawing not repeated in the print are the slight suggestions of a gown on the adult and the cloud beneath the five figures. These parallels between sketch and print comprise one of the major reasons for attributing the latter to Blake.
#204, “How I Pity” (British Museum; illus. 9). The inscribed title, size, and emblematic character of this pencil sketch make it possible that this is “an unused design for The Gates of Paradise,” as Butlin states. But as Joseph Viscomi has kindly pointed out to me, the design was used as the headpiece of plate 3 of The Book of Los with some modifications in the figures’ positions and the projection of the net or web into the background rather than covering the lower figures. These enmeshed figures in the sketch are also similar to the praying victim in plate 15 of Europe, lower right.
#214, “Various Personifications, a Death Bed and other Drawings” (Houghton Library, Harvard). The attribution of this recto-verso sheet of sketches has had a checkered career in recent years. In the first edition (1973) of his Notebook facsimile, Erdman reproduced the sketches and attributed them to Blake in their captions, pp. 86-87. But in an “erratum,” p. 105, and again in his second edition of 1977, Erdman attributes the sheet of studies to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, noting in the first edition that the “detail figures must have been copied from Blake’s Night Thoughts watercolours.” Butlin vigorously disputes this, reattributing the sheet to Blake and dismissing most of Erdman’s comparisons to the Night Thoughts designs which, Butlin claims, were “almost certainly unknown to Rossetti as early as 1863, when his brother listed this sheet of drawings in his catalogue in Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake.” Butlin compares these studies to the similar group of small sketches on pages 74 and 75 of Blake’s Notebook; a more telling comparison, at least from a stylistic point of view, is with #226 recto, “Sketches for America and other Books,” c. 1793 (collection of Charles A. Ryskamp). #595 recto and verso, “Nude Studies” (British private collection), is also similar in some respects, although more carefully detailed in the interior modeling of the figures. This is dated by Butlin c. 1810; its provenance, like that of #214, leads back to W. M. Rossetti. Apparently #595 was the sheet of “various studies of the figure” lent by W. M. Rossetti to the Burlington Fine Arts Club Blake exhibition in 1876, item 155; and also the “Nude Studies” included by him in his Blake catalogue in the second volume of Gilchrist’s Life of Blake (1863), p. 252, no. 148. It seems unlikely that Rossetti would have misattributed several of his brother’s sketches to Blake, and thus the similarities between #595 and #214 support Butlin’s attribution of the latter to Blake.
VII. Drawings for the Earlier Illuminated Books and Other Similar Sketches, c. 1789-1795
The size of this section, thirty-one entries in all, might suggest that there are a good many drawings for the designs in the illuminated books, with others unrecorded and now lost. But many of the entries are for works in the “Similar Sketches” category rather than directly related to the illuminated books, six are for works untraced since no later than 1912 (and some of these may be colored prints rather than drawings), one is not by Blake (see #243A, below), and all others are working sketches begin page 32 | ↑ back to top rather than finished preliminaries of the sort that were conventionally made in preparation for intaglio etchings or engravings. Scholars working on the illuminated books must henceforth take these sketches into account, but there is nothing in Butlin’s catalogue to disprove the supposition that Blake composed the final versions of his relief-etched designs directly on the copper. The relief etching medium allows for this kind of direct composition: Blake could easily draw on the plate in pencil or chalk and continue to make significant revisions even after he had applied acid-resist—just as long as he had not applied any acid.
#218, “Sketches for The Book of Thel: Thel and The Clod of Clay, and Thel Fleeing from the House of Clay” (Miss Ann Caro, London; illus. 12). This is one of only two extant drawings for a published illuminated book that is clearly a mock-up for one or more entire pages, complete with horizontal lines to indicate the position of the text.28↤ 28 The only other drawing of this sort is #223A recto, perhaps a first idea for the title page to America (British Museum). #239 verso, “Sketch for a Border” (National Gallery of Art), also seems to be a mock-up with lines indicating a text, but it does not relate to any known illuminated book page. For a direct preliminary for a white-line etching in an illuminated book, see comments on #566, below. W. Graham Robertson and Bindman have discussed this fascinating drawing,29↤ 29 See Robertson’s edition of Gilchrist, Life of Blake (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1907), p. 495 no. 12 (where the drawing is first recorded and the sketch on the right is identified as “the House of Clay”); Blake Collection of Robertson, ed. Preston, p. 199; Bindman, Blake as an Artist, pp. 63-64. [A discussion by G. E. Bentley, Jr., of the Thel sketch will appear in a forthcoming issue of BLAKE. Eds.] but interpreters of the illuminated books have not given it the attention it deserves. Just below the headpiece on the left is the roman numeral III, which corresponds to plate 6 in the published book (illus. 13). The sketch on the right must therefore be a preliminary version of plate 7 (illus. 14). It illustrates the end of Chapter III which would have appeared immediately above it:
Queen of the vales, the matron Clay answerd; I heard thy sighs.Thel stands in front of the matron Clay’s house, arms outstretched. Her “moans” fly above. That Blake drew these two plates side by side on one sheet suggests that he was thinking of the pictorial relationship between facing pages even though no extant copy of the book is printed recto-verso.
And all thy moans flew o’er my roof. but I have call’d them down:
Wilt thou O Queen enter my house. ‘tis given thee to enter,
And to return; fear nothing. enter with thy virgin feet.
At some point between sketching these pages and etching the plates, Blake made some significant changes. The design that stands as the headpiece to plate 6 in the sketch was shifted one position later in the book, becoming the tailpiece to plate 7. Blake drew this design on the copper with right and left in the same direction as in the sketch, thereby reversing it in impressions from the plate (note that the positions of the matron Clay and the infant Worm are reversed in illus. 14). If the shift in position continued for the tailpiece in the sketch, then it would become the headpiece to Chapter IV on plate 8 where it could still illustrate the end of Chapter III. And perhaps Blake did execute a final plate with this design, for the only known etched version of Chapter IV on plate 8—the only chapter without a headpiece—has long been suspected to be a late addition, perhaps a replacement for an earlier conclusion to the poem. The new headpiece to Chapter III on plate 6 (illus. 13) illustrates the opening lines of that chapter. Thel’s gesture in the etched version of plate 6 echoes her appearance in the sketched version of the Chapter III tailpiece; the Cloud is the same type of soaring personification as those above the house of Clay. If Blake did not shift the sketched tailpiece to the next plate but rejected it altogether, he may have simply borrowed these motifs from it to construct the substitute headpiece on plate 6.
Butlin does not note that this Thel drawing is on laid paper with a large crown and Britannia watermark cut in half by the lower edge of the sheet.
#229, “Los Supporting the Sun” (National Gallery of Art). Butlin does not note in his provenance information that this drawing was once owned by Willis Vickery and sold from his collection at the American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, New York, 1 March 1933, lot 23 ($70). Lot 24 in this sale is also a pencil drawing attributed to Blake, described as representing “a woman in classical robe and headdress kneeling in lament over the semi-draped figure of a man relaxed in death. Supporting figures in mere outline appear. . . . The signature, ‘W. Blake,’ is partly erased. Size, 6 ¼ by 9 ½ inches.” I cannot identify this work as any of the drawings in Butlin’s catalogue.
#243A, “A Serpent” (Malcolm Frazier, Medfield, Massachusetts). Butlin refers to Bindman’s doubts about attributing this water color to Blake. Indeed, the attribution is so doubtful that I see no reason to include the work in the catalogue. It pictures a real, biological snake, not one of Blake’s symbolic serpents.
VIII. Illustrations to Mary Wollstonecraft and Shakespeare, and Other Works, c. 1790-1795
#255, “Los and Orc” (Tate Gallery). Based on the evident significance of the scene in this water color, Butlin comments interestingly that “in this case the theme [the conflict of Los and Orc] appears first in a visual form, not in poetry.” If he is right in this instance, “Los and Orc” exemplifies the way in which an artist “thinks” with hand and eye. This process of composition, purely pictorial at its inception, can take place prior to—or simultaneous with—the verbal conceptualization of meaning. The interplay of forms, whether consciously borrowed from another artist or “invented,” grows in complexity and significance as the artist works up a design. Traditional meanings come readymade with certain motifs and pathos formulae; as these are pictorially integrated with other elements in the composition, new themes arise. From these can evolve stories, such as the one about Los, Enitharmon, and Orc prefigured by this drawing. As designs are modified, even if the changes are motivated by purely compositional concerns, the themes and stories they embody can be revised thereby. The literary background and bias of most Blake scholars lead them to assume that concept or story precedes pictorial image. As Butlin suggests, the priority of word to picture cannot be assumed in every case.
#257, “The Good and Evil Angels” (Cecil Higgins Museum, Bedford), and #258, “God Judging Adam” begin page 33 | ↑ back to top (collection of George Goyder). These two water colors of 1793-1794 and 1790-1793, respectively, provide the necessary context for understanding the stylistic developments exemplified by the great 1795 color printed drawings (see comments on section X, below). The color prints show Blake’s somewhat sudden tendency toward schematization, a flattened (and in that sense neoclassical) sense of pictorial space, and an impulse toward the minute particulars of surface that have little to do with naturalistic detail. In contrast to these two earlier drawings, the color prints of the same subjects are immeasurably more powerful, elemental, and psychologically disturbing. Neither the change in medium, from pen and water color drawing to color printing with subsequent pen and water color finishing, nor the impact of relief etching, with its intrinsic flattening and anti-naturalistic limitations, can completely account for the power of the large 1795 color printed drawings.
IX. Separate Designs from the Illuminated Books, etc., c. 1794-1796
#261.8, “Urizen, Plate 5,” color print from the dispersed copy B of A Small Book of Designs (Beinecke Library, Yale University). Butlin is incorrect in his statement that “the colour-printingbegin page 34 | ↑ back to top reduces the width of Urizen’s arms, following the modelling lines of the etching rather than the lower outlines.” This reduction does occur, however, in the two other separate, color printed impressions, #260.21 (A Small Book of Designs, copy A; British Museum) and #278 (University of Texas). The arm thickness and very similar patterns of color printing in the British Museum and Texas impressions strongly suggest that they were printed one after the other: #260.21 was probably printed first, with little (if any) addition of more opaque colors to the plate before the second pull. The Yale impression is printed in different colors and patterns and is not part of this #260.21-#278 sequence of pulls.
#261.10, “Urizen, Plate 10,” color print from the dispersed copy B of A Small Book of Designs (Pierpont Morgan Library). Butlin briefly quotes a reference to a version of this design and to #446, “The Blasphemer” (Tate Gallery), appearing in The Critic, Vol. 22 no. 510 (14 April 1860), 467. I do not believe that this unsigned, commendatory review, published before the appearance of Gilchrist’s Life of Blake, has been previously noted. It appears in a section of the journal titled “Art and Artists” on p. 465; the exhibition review itself is titled “Water-Colour Drawings at South Kensington.” After discussion of works by A. E. and J. Chalon, John Varley, and Thomas Hood the poet, the review ends with the following, only a small part of which is reprinted by Butlin.
There are also three drawings by that wonderful man William Blake. One is (we suppose) “The High Priests Stoning a Prophet” [#446]; the uplifted arms of the former have all that imaginative suggestiveness and direct appeal to the imagination characteristic of this painter. The other frame contains two scraps from Blake’s wild illustrated Books. One is an enigmatic male figure sinking in the waves [a version of #261.10]; the other is the first page of “The Songs of Innocence” (the Echoing Green [Butlin suggests the separate impression of the first plate of “The Ecchoing Green” at Harvard]), and has all the riant melody of colour and charming fancy peculiar to that unique book. It would be well to get the whole of the coloured “Songs of Innocence and Experience” (any of the copies which are printed only on one side of the leaf), and to frame the entire series. No money could be better spent in this Department [of the South Kensington Museum] than by showing the English world that it has had one really imaginative and spiritual artist, of whom it knows nothing.The author shows some familiarity with Songs of Innocence and of Experience—note his distinction between copies printed recto-verso and those on rectos only—and an appreciation of Blake’s art, both rare qualities in 1860.
#262.3, “Urizen,[e] Plate 21,” color print from A Large Book of Designs copy A (British Museum). Butlin comments that this design showing Los, Orc, and Enitharmon “is related to Flaxman’s engraving of the blacksmith god Hesphaestus [sic] (or Vulcan) chaining Prometheus (Compositions for the Tragedies of Aeschylus, 1793, pls. 3 and 4).” As Bindman has pointed out, Urizen plate 21 recalls “the common Renaissance subject of Venus, Vulcan and Cupid at the Forge.”30↤ 30 Blake as an Artist, p. 93. Flaxman, however, does not picture that subject but only Prometheus chained, and the visual similarities between his two designs and Blake’s are very slight.
#287, “Lucifer and the Pope in Hell,” color print (Huntington Library). This is an intaglio etching/ engraving color printed from the surface of the plate—not, as Butlin has it, a “colour-printed relief etching.” Butlin’s provenance information stops with the purchase of the print by Sabin in 1914. Sessler’s records indicate that they acquired it from Robson in July 1923 for $407 and sold it to Henry E. Huntington in August 1923 (no price recorded, but perhaps part of a lot including #748 for $2,500).
X. The Large Color Prints, c. 1795
Two pieces of information, one mentioned in passing in this catalogue and the other discovered by Butlin after its publication, require us to rethink our basic ideas about how and when the large color prints were produced. In his entry on #295, “God Judging Adam” (Metropolitan Museum, New York), he writes that “among the flames on the lower right-hand side are what appear to be the forms of capital letters, seen upside down and at a diagonal, suggesting that an engraved plate bearing such letters was deliberately or accidentally involved in the printing of this pull.” Butlin noted this feature of the print in his 1978 Tate exhibition catalogue,31↤ 31 Martin Butlin, William Blake (London: Tate Gallery, 1978), p. 60. but no one seems to have published further on the discovery. The letters, or at least uncolored surfaces of the paper that look like fragments of letters printed in blind, are indeed present, 7.1 cm. from the bottom edge of the print and 8.9 cm. from the right edge. It is very difficult to see, much less identify, these marks unless one knows just where to look. To my eye, the letters are not necessarily “upside down,” but are in reverse. There are two rows of letters, the top containing at least the letter N, the bottom perhaps ON. In size, blind printing, and configuration, these look very much like the lettering of a platemaker’s mark of the sort present in blind in some impressions of Songs of Experience and Europe.32↤ 32 See Bentley, Blake Books, pp. 145, 225, 381-82 n. 4. Indeed, the three barely visible letters on “God Judging Adam” may have been made by the third and fourth lines of the same platemaker’s mark stamped into the back of the copperplate of “Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrims” (HARRIS / No 31 / SHOE LANE / LONDON) or the firm’s mark on the back of the Job title page plate (G. HARRIS / No 31 / SHOE LANE / LONDON).33↤ 33 This is highly speculative. It is difficult to determine the exact outlines of the letters in “God Judging Adam,” and my rather crude attempts at making comparative measurements have proven unsuccessful. The sizes of the letters of a platemaker’s mark vary according to the force with which the punch bearing the letters is struck into the copper, but appropriately scaled photo-transparencies might offer some firm answers.
Modern scholars have generally accepted Frederick Tatham’s statement that the 1795 color prints were stamped from “thick millboard” or “paste-board.” Butlin, p. 156, quotes Tatham’s account; and although he questions other parts of Tatham’s description, he does not directly challenge the millboard theory. Clearly, the evidence for a platemaker’s mark in the Metropolitan Museum version of “God Judging Adam” opens that theory to question. There are, however, other possibilities than the begin page 35 | ↑ back to top obvious one that “God Judging Adam,” and perhaps other color printed drawings, were stamped from a metal plate. Butlin allows that a plate may have been “accidentally involved in the printing of this pull.” Odd accidents do occur in print studios, although it is hard to explain how this one could have happened. If a plate was purposely included in the print’s production, it need not have been the primary printing surface. Blake may have used the back of a small copperplate to blot colors already painted or printed on the paper in order to increase their reticulations for whatever aesthetic reasons he had in mind. This would, in effect, allow for revisions in surface structure after the initial printing.
Another possibility has been suggested to me in correspondence by Sue Welsh Reed, Assistant Curator of Prints at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Mrs. Reed, who has written perceptively on the early history of monotype printing, 34↤ 34 See Reed, “Monotypes in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” pp. 3-8 in The Painterly Print: Monotypes from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980). Mrs. Reed did not learn of the letters in “God Judging Adam” until after her work in this volume had been published. has investigated the letters in “God Judging Adam” with considerable care. She proposes that Blake may have been using mill-board bearing an indented manufacturer’s stamp, as in the “Bristol board” of the nineteenth century or some Strathmore papers of today. Such a stamp, if not filled with colors, would leave letters in blind similar to those produced by a platemaker’s mark. In these examples the stamp is usually closer to the edge of the board or sheet than in “God Judging Adam”—assuming that the printing board was at least as large as the printed paper—but the situation may have been different in the eighteenth century. Mrs. Reed has also studied the forms of the letters with the aid of a detailed transparency and concluded that the letter T precedes ON in the second line. If she is correct, then we can rule out the G. HARRIS platemaker’s mark.
Certainly this whole matter requires more investigation. A. H. Shorter’s Paper Mills and Paper Makers in England 1495-1800 (Hilversum, 1957) includes some names of papermakers that might have used a blind stamp with the requisite letters, but provides no evidence even for the existence of such stamps. If any reader of this quarterly knows of an expert in eighteenth-century millboard makers’ stamps, I would be delighted to know his or her name and address.
The second, more recent discovery concerning the 1795 color printed drawings has much more extensive implications. As Butlin has recently reported in this journal,35↤ 35 “A Newly Discovered Watermark and a Visionary’s Way with His Dates,” Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 15 (Fall 1981), 101-03. the Tate Gallery impression of “Newton” is on paper watermarked 1804. Let me try to recover from this bombshell and add a few speculations to Butlin’s remarkably restrained article. While the 1804 watermark overturns most of what has been believed about the dating of the 1795 [sic?] color printed drawings, it does confirm the long-held suspicion that the dates on Blake’s prints (of all types) record the year of “invention”—not execution or publication unless specifically inscribed as such. Thus the inscription on the intaglio etching/engraving “Albion rose,” “WB inv 1780,” means exactly that and nothing more. Blake invented the design in that year, a process that may have included composition in some medium, but the date gives no clue as to the date of execution (sculpsit) in the copper or printing.36↤ 36 The seminal article on Blake’s etched and engraved dates is David V. Erdman, “The Dating of William Blake’s Engravings,” Philological Quarterly, 31 (1952), 337-43; reprinted, with a new postscript by the author, in The Visionary Hand, ed. Robert N. Essick (Hennessey & Ingalls, 1973), pp. 161-71. Building on Erdman’s findings, I proposed the rule of thumb that “Blake’s imprint date of engraving (sculpsit as distinct from invenit) incised in the plate records the publication of the first state” of a plate (Blake, Printmaker, p. 65). Neither of these studies addresses the problem of Blake’s hand written dates on planographic prints.
I have suggested elsewhere that the color printed drawings sold to Thomas Butts in 1805 were not finished in pen and water colors until shortly before the sale.37↤ 37 Blake, Printmaker, p. 132. Butlin, p. 156, makes much the same point. We now have incontrovertible evidence that Blake also printed at least one version of “Newton” in 1804 or 1805 when he sold it to Butts. The inscribed date on this Tate impression, “1795 WB inv,” refers only to the “invention” of the design, just as with the similar inscription on “Albion rose.” The other color printed drawings with inscribed dates either contain the “inv” abbreviation or have the year alone.
Blake’s technique of color printing required a fairly thick application of paint the millboard (or copperplate?), and this glue or gum based medium must be immediately printed before it dries. The progressive decrease in the amount of color printing in the three impressions of some color printed drawings indicates that they were printed in succession from the millboard or plate before the initial application of paint had dried. This seemed to be good evidence that, if any one impression had been pulled in 1795, all had been. Butlin’s discovery throws into doubt all these seemingly reasonable assumptions. We are left with at least two alternative explanations.38↤ 38 Both alternatives are briefly suggested by Butlin in his note on the 1804 watermark.
1. Blake could reuse his millboards or copperplates for the color printed drawings after the first application of paint had dried on them. Perhaps Blake could clean the paint from his printing board or plate, leaving only the outline for future use. This would have been fairly easy if the printing surfaces were metal and outlines of the designs had been very lightly scratched into them. If indeed this was Blake’s method, then a successive decrease among impressions in the amount of printed colors does not necessarily indicate a single press run.
2. Blake may not have printed any color printed drawings in 1795. The inscribed dates indicate only the year Blake invented the designs, carrying their execution no further than drawings. These could have been made on the millboards or copperplates themselves but not colored up and printed until much later. This seemingly bizarre hypothesis at least has the advantage of not controverting the evidence that all impressions of at least some of the color printed drawings were pulled in one press run.
As Butlin indicates at the end of his article in Blake, the discovery of the 1804 watermark affects more than just theories about Blake’s color printing techniques. Our understanding of Blake’s artistic development, his experimentation with and abandonment of various media, from c. 1794 to c. 1805 has hinged on the belief that he did all his color printing, both planographic and from relief etched plates, c. 1794-1796. We now know that a major example of planographic color printing was executed in 1804 or 1805. To this we can also add the post-1804 plate from Milton at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, printed with the reticulated impasto effects of Blake’s size-colors even if the medium was thick ink.39↤ 39 See Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 15 (Summer 1981), cover, p. 8, and illus. 6. If more color printed works should emerge, definitely datable post-1803, we will be forced to modify our picture of Blake’s development out of the Burkean sublime of color printing and into the begin page 36 | ↑ back to top
I do not believe that there is sufficient cause for a complete reassessment quite yet. It is of course possible that only the Tate version of “Newton” was printed in 1804 or 1805 in response to Butts’ order for a set of the color printed drawings. Yet even if the 1804-1805 “Newton” is an anomaly, we have learned from Butlin’s remarkable discovery to distrust our tendency to shape careers into neatly periodized narratives, or to extrapolate rigid doctrines about an artist’s practice from his verbal statements. Once again we are reminded that Blake was a craftsman, an inveterate tinkerer, and if he needed to do a bit of color printing he would not be stopped by his theories, much less ours.
Comments on individual entries follow.
#296, “God Judging Adam” (Philadelphia Museum of Art; illus. 15). Butlin enlists the opinions of Andrew Wilton and David Bindman to question the authenticity of the handcoloring on this color printed drawing. I too very much doubt that it is by Blake. The colors have a higher tonality than any other color printed drawing I have seen, and they were applied in broad, thin washes totally uncharacteristic of Blake’s work. The contrast with Blake’s own handcoloring is particularly striking if one compares this impression to the carefully layered, almost stippled coloring in the prints sold to Butts. One odd feature of this Philadelphia version is the eyelashes added to the frontmost horse that give him an almost comic air. The color printing, however, seems perfectly genuine. The outlines of the major forms seem to have been printed in black or gray with the few additional colors limited almost entirely to areas surrounding the men and horses. If we could eliminate the questionable overpainting, we would have a print looking very similar to a monochrome pull of a relief etching. The provenance of this print indicates that it was still in Blake’s possession at his death. I suspect that he kept it as an unfinished experimental impression printed in only a few dark colors and that a later hand finished it in pen & ink and bright water colors.
#298, “Lamech and his Two Wives” (Essick Collection). Butlin notes that this example has “little actual colour-printing” and “was covered with varnish, but it has now been largely removed.” There is a good deal of color printing in the abstract and somber background and foreground landscape, but very little on the figures. The print still looks varnished to me; if any varnish was removed it must have been before 1974.
#311, “Pity” (Metropolitan Museum of Art; illus. 16). Several large areas of the print not overpainted show horizontal striations. The colors rise in sharp ridges with thinly printed valleys between, almost as though a fine comb had been drawn through the size-colors before they had dried. In illus. 16 this odd effect is most clearly visible below the horse’s extended foreleg and in the prone woman’s hair and on the ground below. The horizontal lines also appear in these areas in the Yale Center impression (#312) but are almost completely obscured by the overpainting in the Tate impression (#310)— or perhaps by the thickness of the medium itself in what is probably the first pull from the millboard or plate. These markings might have been caused by the surface structure of the printing surface, such as the ridges in some modern cardboards. It seems unlikely that they were produced by the wire lines begin page 37 | ↑ back to top of laid paper because there is no evidence of chain lines; these surely would have left their mark if the wire lines did. The more one looks at the color printed drawings, the more the mysteries multiply.
#317, “Hecate” (National Gallery of Scotland). The reference should be to plate 415, not “417.”
XI. The Great Book Illustrations, c. 1795-1807
This 116-page section covers the Night Thoughts and Gray illustrations and the drawings in the Four Zoas manuscript. For the first group, Butlin does not record most of the dashes before lines of Young’s text indicated in the captions, and usually visible in the reproductions, in the Clarendon edition.40↤ 40 William Blake’s Designs for Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, ed. Grant, et al. I have not compared these reproductions or the information in their captions against the original water colors in the British Museum. See also comments on #330.241 and #330.299, below.
#330.55 (Night Thoughts water color 55, British Museum). “Line 318 is also starred” should read “Line 334 . . . .”
#330.64. Butlin comments on the contrast between the “Urizenic old man” in this design and the mother and children on the right. He does not consider the sinister implications in the woman’s appearance, emphasized in the etching/engraving but already present in the water color. The vegetation might, in the context of Songs of Innocence, indicate exuberant expression. In Night Thoughts, however, we are directed toward Blake’s concepts of fallen nature. The woman (mother? nurse?) is old, with harsh and haggard features, and her head is covered with a veil or scarf. We are led away from any suggestions of the gently supportive mothers and nurses of Innocence and toward the figures of Tirzah and Vala. The children are therefore dominated by Urizenic abstraction and generation. These are not opposites of good and evil, but two faces of a single error. (My caveat here is not meant to dismiss Butlin’s extremely brief but often penetrating interpretations of the Night Thoughts designs.)
#330.97. The small figure kneeling at the upper left corner of the text panel aims a single arrow (not Butlin’s “arrows”) at the man below.
#330.196. Butlin states that the figure leaning over a precipice is “watched by a sheepdog.” The dog’s eyes are closed, or simply not drawn in. The point would seem to be not watchfulness but a failure to perceive danger and the alienation of man from natural, and supposedly alert, companions.
#330.221. Butlin writes of a never-before-described “pencil sketch, perhaps a more robust version of the same girl [in the water color], running over on to the blank text-page.” No such figure is visible in the reproduction in the Clarendon edition.
#330.224. Butlin: “Also marked in pencil at lines 47 and 49.” Clarendon edition: line 37 marked with a cross in the right margin; line 49 marked with a cross in the left margin. The Clarendon reproduction suggests that Butlin’s “47” is a simple error for 37.
#330.228. Butlin: “An old man ploughing.” Perhaps middle-aged, overworked, worried, and with hints of gray in his Orc-like curly locks—but not old.
#330.241. The caption in the Clarendon edition fails to note the cross before line 381. Butlin’s reference to it is confirmed by its presence in the Clarendon reproduction.
#330.264. The date ascribed to All Religions are One should be c. 1788, not “1780.”
#330.299. Butlin states that line 532 “is starred,” and “also line 538.” The Clarendon edition neither notes nor pictures the latter.
#330.310. Is the figure unquestionably a “man”? He/she wears a scarf over his/her head like several women, but no (other?) men, in the Night Thoughts designs.
#330.348. The page is given an incorrect entry number, “330.340.”
#330.475. The figure is not, as Butlin describes him, “supporting a segment of the zodiacal circle” pictured in the background. As the starred line (“What More than Atlantean Shoulder props / The incumbent Load?”) indicates, the figure is Atlas. He carries on his shoulder the earth bearing the clearly delineated continents of Europe, Africa, and the western third of Asia.
#330.489. There is only one angel (not Butlin’s “angels”) above the three struggling figures.
#330.498. Only two, not all “three figures” (Butlin), are writing on a scroll.
#330A. Butlin lists in this entry the drawings on three proofs of the Night Thoughts engravings in a “private collection” (i.e., collection of Philip Hofer). He writes that the early proof of the title page to Night the First in this group contains the title “written in pencil and wash.” The title is in pencil alone; the wash is confined to the giant figure to the right of the text panel.
#337, Vala, or The Four Zoas (British Library). Butlin writes that his descriptions of these drawings are “based particularly on Margoliouth’s and Grant’s identifications,”41↤ 41 William Blake’s Vala, ed. H. M. Margoliouth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956); John E. Grant, “Visions in Vala: A Consideration of Some Pictures in the Manuscript,” pp. 141-202 in Blake’s Sublime Allegory, ed. Stuart Curran and Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr. (Madison: University of Wiscons in Press, 1973). but also “tentatively go beyond their suggestions in some cases.” Among the most interesting of these additions to his predecessors are Butlin’s comments on the relevance of the Night Thoughts proofs to the texts they bear and on the formal, and in some cases iconographic, relationships between these Night Thoughts designs and contiguous Vala drawings. Butlin also argues, p. 290, that the large drawing of Christ on page 116 of the manuscript, the verso of a Night Thoughts proof, was first executed as a design for Night Thoughts. He constructs a line of compositional development that implies that the drawings of Christ on pages 1642↤ 42 The erased drawing of the risen Christ on page 16, described by Butlin, is not visible in the reproduction in Bentley’s facsimile edition of the manuscript. and 58 also began as working sketches for the frontispiece to the Night Thoughts water colors (#330.1). The point is an important one: if true, then Blake made use of Night Thoughts drawings (as well as proofs of the etching/engravings) in his Vala illustrated manuscript. Butlin’s argument also begin page 38 | ↑ back to top means that the frontispiece to the Young designs was a late addition to the series (as has been suggested by the editors of the Clarendon Clarendon Night Thoughts, I, 12), composed after the proofs of the etching/engravings on pages 70 and 73 of the 1797 edition (bearing pages 58 and 116 of Vala on their versos) had been pulled.
As Butlin tells us, the editors of the Clarendon Night Thoughts believe (p. 38 and n. 56) that the drawing on Vala page 116 was composed as an illustration to that poem and follows rather than precedes the similar portravals of Christ in the first Night Thoughts design, finished recto and preliminary verso. Yet, Butlin’s argument is intriguing and as convincing as such speculation can ever be. One piece of circumstantial evidence supporting his case is the fact that the Vala text is written over the drawings of Christ on pages 16 and 58, and crowded into the upper margin on page 116. In all three examples, the drawings were very probably executed before the text. This also seems to be the case with the text above and below the large drawing on page 86, a verso of a Night Thoughts proof.
Another interesting contribution to the investigation of this frustratingly complex manuscript is Butlin’s brief comment on the sequence of composition of the two versions of Night VII. He suggests (p. 285) that Blake may have first drawn the large figure on page 76 (the last page of Night VI and perhaps a kind of frontispiece to Night VII) as a male and later converted him to a female. This suggests that Night VIIa was written first because “that seems to be the more male oriented” of the two versions. Even an argument as speculative as this one may be helpful when wrestling with The Four Zoas.
#337.87-90, The Four Zoas, two leaves cut from an impression of Blake’s etching/engraving “Edward & Elenor.” Butlin comments that “the text on pages 87 and 90 was presumably written consecutively on the back of the engraving which was then cut in half and trimmed to insert the pages into the manuscript.” This is an interesting theory, but the only evidence for it, as Butlin notes, is that “the text on page 90 is abnormally close to the left-hand edge of the paper.” This suggests that Blake had a wider margin on the left when he began writing. Yet I doubt that Blake wrote pages 87 and 90 before cutting “Edward & Elenor” in half; working on the full sheet would simply have been very awkward and have served no purpose practical or artistic. Subsequent trimming to conform to the size of the other manuscript leaves accounts for the narrow left margin on page 90 and the missing 4.6 cm. wide central strip from “Edward & Elenor” along the outer margins of pages 88 and 89.
XII. Miscellaneous Designs, c. 1795-1800
#341, “Malevolence” (Philadelphia Museum of Art). To Butlin’s provenance information I can add, from Sessler’s records, that they purchased the drawing for $6000 and sold it to Mrs. Tonner in November 1954 for $6500.
#342, “Churchyard Spectres Frightening a Schoolboy” (Imogen Dennis Collection, Oxfordshire; illus. 17). Butlin follows Rossetti in giving this drawing a title that associates it with an oft-illustrated passage in Blair’s Grave, but he then argues against such a connection and dates the drawing c. 1795-1800 (i.e., at least five years before the Grave commission). The passage in question is as follows: ↤ 43 Robert Blair, The Grave (London: R. H. Cromek, 1808), pp. 3-4. The scene is illustrated, without any “spectres,” in the frontispiece (signed “Dodd de. Sparrow sculpt.”) to The Grave, ed. G. Wright (London, 1785); in the unsigned title page vignette of Roach’s Beauties of the Poets of Great Britain (London, 1794), vol. I; and in the frontispiece (signed “F. Seymour del. & sc.”) to The Grave A Poem by Robert Blair to which is Added An Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard by Mr. Gray (Philadelphia, 1787). In his edition, Wright states (p. 10) that “the above description [of the schoolboy] has met with universal approbation, and is doubtless one of the most natural and pleasing pictures throughout the whole poem.” Clearly, any artist setting out to illustrate Blair in 1805 would be led to consider this subject if he were at all familiar with its critical and illustrative reputation.
Oft in the lone church-yard at night I’ve seen,
By glimpse of moon-shine, chequ’ring through the trees,
The school-boy, with his satchel in his hand,
Whistling aloud to bear his courage up,
And lightly tripping o’er the long flat stones
(With nettles skirted, and with moss o’ergrown)
That tell in homely phrase who lie below.
Sudden he starts! and hears, or thinks he hears,
The sound of something purring at his heels.
Full fast he flies, and dares not look behind him,
Till out of breath he overtakes his fellows;
Who gather round, and wonder at the tale
Of horrid apparition, tall and ghastly,
That walks at dead of night, or takes his stand
O’er some new open’d grave; and, strange to tell,
Evanishes at crowing of the cock!43
Butlin does not offer an alternative subject or purpose for the drawing, but claims that there is “no justification” in Blair’s poem “for the figure in the doorway on the right, who looks like a school-master holding a birch,” that “the boy is holding a doll rather than a satchel,” and that the style of the water color “suggests a date in the later 1790s.” Blair writes, in the passage quoted above, of “something purring” at the boy’s heels and also of his tale of a “horrid apparition, tall and ghastly.” These might be taken by an illustrator as two different figures, both figments of the boy’s imagination at different times. Thus there is some justification for the noticeably “tall” figure on the right (illus. 17). That he is represented as “a schoolmaster holding a birch,” to use Butlin’s phrase, is altogether appropriate as the product of a schoolboy’s frightened fancy. But even if there were no textual rationale for the figure in the doorway, we could not for that reason dissociate the drawing from the Grave illustrations because plates 3, 5, 7-11 among Blake’s published designs for that poem contain prominent figures not mentioned in the text.
The loose style of the drawing can be accounted for by its unfinished state and by the fact that it illustrates a passage in Blair much lighter in tone than others. A broad, caricature-like style is thus appropriate. The stylistic similarities between this drawing and some of Blake’s comic illustrations to Gray’s poems, such as the ninth design for “A Long Story,” are I believe the result of parallels in genre and tone, not precise chronology. The dimensions of the drawing correspond to the published Grave designs and to the only extant finished wash drawing in the series, the rejected “Death Pursuing the Soul through the Avenues of Life” (#635). Finally, the object held by the boy looks to my eyes like Blair’s “satchel” with a tassel dangling from its lower corner—not Butlin’s “doll.”begin page 39 | ↑ back to top
XIII. Works Done at the Instigation of William Hayley, c. 1800-1805
Blake scholars have frequently treated the years 1800 to 1805 as a traumatic period in Blake’s life and as a watershed in his career as artist and poet. Butlin has now provided a complete, illustrated accounting of the drawings and paintings that Blake produced for Hayley during this time. They show a considerable falling off in his artistic achievement, particularly when he (or Hayley?) forced his powerful, but in some ways narrow, talents into pictorial genres on the circumference of his vision. Miniature portraiture (#347, 353-54, 376-78), interior decoration (#343. 1-18), and vaguely topographical landscape (#369-75) may have instructed Blake in techniques he made use of in later masterpieces, but they are hardly his métier.
Whatever the limitations of Hayley’s character and need to protect and dominate disturbed geniuses like Romney and Cowper, we cannot lay all of Blake’s difficulties at his patron’s doorstep. From about 1802 to at least 1809, Blake seems to have suffered sporadically from what we would now call, using current rather than Blakean myths of mental states, a manic-depressive syndrome. This “disease” can sometimes progress into a schizophrenic state with delusive visions and directive voices, and a paranoia that focuses on well-intentioned friends. We should be dissuaded from attaching the schizophrenia label to Blake at this period of his life because of the considerable evidence indicating that he had visions—and believed in their superiority to conventional “reality”—from his youth to the last day of his life. Thus the 1800-1805 period does not mark the sudden emergence of supposedly pathological phenomena. Blake’s central difficulty seems to have been not visions and voices, but self-doubt. Hayley’s real threat was not that he forced Blake to perform commercial tasks but that he made Blake suspect the importance of his vision.
As a consequence of this jolt to Blake’s conception of his being, he began to harden his self-definition as an alienated genius and to withdraw from relationships threatening his isolation. After the partial break with Hayley, Cromek and Hunt were less the objects than the catalysts for Blake’s most significant acts of rejection. His sense of unrecognized talent shifts toward a paranoid discovery of jealousy in such erstwhile friends as Hayley, Flaxman, and Stothard. Yet these unrewarding but perhaps psychically necessary adjustments are less consequential than the fact of Blake’s self-rescue from doubt and despondency. We should not ignore the possibility that his return to a Christ-centered theology may have been part of this psychological salvation, much as Wordsworth and Coleridge were led to embrace traditional Christian structures after the failure of pantheism and its secular analogue, the French Revolution. The anatomy and cost of Blake’s restoration of faith in his vision have yet to be explored in detail. Butlin’s catalogue now gives us the pictorial foundation for the study of these mental heroics, much as Keynes, Erdman, and Bentley have provided the verbal documents.
Two minute particulars follow.
#343. 17, “Cowper,” one of eighteen Heads of Poets (City of Manchester Art Galleries). Butlin follows Rossetti in describing the wreath around the portrait as “lilies of the valley.” This seems clearly wrong to me; the wreath looks very similar to the bay or laurel pictured in the Dante, Chaucer, and Dryden portraits. Butlin describes Spenser’s wreath as “olive,” but it too looks like bay or laurel.
#345, “Thomas Alphonso Hayley” (Yale Center for British Art). This half-length portrait was at one time bound up with the manuscript of Cunningham’s life of Blake and other Blakeana. Besides the dealer catalogues, listed by Butlin, in which this collection appeared, Quaritch also offered it in his advertising flyer dated May 1885, “William Blake’s Original Drawings.” This four-page flyer also offered a group of drawings from Tatham’s collection, begin page 40 | ↑ back to top a group of important biblical water colors from the Butts collection, the Boston Museum Comus series (#528), and nine of the twelve Paradise Lost illustrations (#536) executed for Butts.
XIV. Illustrations to the Bible Painted for Thomas Butts, c. 1799-1809
This group of 118 extant temperas and water colors includes some of Blake’s greatest works. While a few individual biblical paintings have received critical attention, the group as a whole remains largely unexplored. Butlin’s gathering of facts and illustrations will very probably stimulate, and provide the foundation for, a good many studies of these widely dispersed works. Some of these future essays (and books?) will no doubt propose various organizational schemes for the whole collection or subsets of it. The fact that they all take their subjects from the same book, a book with the richest tradition of interpretation in European culture, permits a vast proliferation of contrasts, comparisons, and groupings. Just as it is virtually impossible to select at random two or more passages in the Bible between which a clever exegete cannot find some relationship, so it is with any grouping of Blake’s biblical subjects. The true believer creates patterns to discover the immanence of God in the text; the Blake interpreter creates patterns to discover the immanence of the artist’s mind in the pictures. Neither ever fails in the search. If we pursue the hermeneutics of such studies far enough we may be led to that dangerous borderland between semiotics and the mathematics of finite sets. Or we are led to Wallace Stevens and order as the telos of desire:
But to impose is not
To discover. To discover an order as of
A season, to discover summer and know it,
To discover winter and know it well, to find,
Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all,
Out of nothing to have come on major weather,
It is possible, possible, possible. It must Be possible.
(“Notes toward a Supreme Fiction”)
Butlin’s catalogue offers appropriate restraint to the more fanciful cluster builders and pattern searchers. Parallels in media, dimensions, form of signature and other physical characteristics can tell us a great deal about which thematic groupings are most probable. Authoritative dating provides a diachronic structure against which we can test the synchronic structures of the iconographer, much as the labors of Los restrain the conquests of Urizen. Even the most convincing pattern of symbolic meaning is suspect if it violates the physical and chronological facts. We should also keep in mind the possibility that the structure of the group was less affected by an iconographic program than by such practical exigencies as available canvas sizes or the remaining wall or cabinet space in Butts’ home.
Butlin subdivides the biblical subjects according to medium: tempera paintings (#379-432, including thirty-one traced and twenty-four untraced works44↤ 44 Calculating the number of works according to catalogue numbers does not work because there are “A” entries (i.e., #425A) and other adjustments. ) and water color drawings (#433-526, including eighty-seven traced and six untraced works). Each group is arranged according to the order in the Bible of the passages illustrated, thereby forming two pictorial Blake Bibles. Within each group are subgroups determined by size, dating, and to some extent subject. The most significant of these groupings are defined by all three criteria. The temperas, all painted c. 1799-1803, fall into two groups according to size: those with dimensions of about 27 × 38 cm. (for typical examples see illus. 19-21), and a set of five works measuring about 32 × 50 cm. The latter were all executed c. 1799-1800 in thick, dark colors and take their subjects from the life of Christ: #410, “The Christ Child Asleep on a Cross”; #415, “The Baptism of Christ”; #416, “The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes”; #422, “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem”; #424, “The Last Supper.”45↤ 45 Butlin fails to include #410 in his list of the large temperas, p. 318. Neither Butlin or any other scholar I know of has previously argued for the independence and integrity of the large temperas as a group. The structural independence of the large temperas from the small is underscored by the appearance of one subject, “The Christ Child Asleep on a Cross,” in both groups (#410, 411). Finally, among the smaller temperas there is a subset of the four Apostles (#396-99, “St. Mark” and “St. John” untraced) executed with the canvas turned to a vertical major axis.46↤ 46 The dimensions of the two untraced works are not known, but it is reasonably safe to assume that they corresponded to the extant Apostles. This group was first described as such by Bindman, Blake as an Artist, p. 125. #387, “Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf,” is the only other tempera, large or small, with a vertical format, although it is hard to see how it would fit into the series of Apostles.
The biblical water colors offer a considerable challenge to those looking for subsets or a program organizing the whole collection. The patron may have had a good deal to say about the selection of subjects: in a letter of 22 November 1802, Blake asked Butts “what subject you choose to be painted on the remaining Canvas which I brought down with me” to Felpham.47↤ 47 The Letters of William Blake, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, Third Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 43. Such influences do not necessarily exclude a program, but they do complicate the issue. The chronology of execution and sale to Butts delineates three style periods—1800, 1803, and 1805 (see Butlin, p. 335, and comments on #491, below)—but these do not seem to correspond directly to groupings by subjects or readily apparent themes. Butlin states simply his answer to the question of format: “Though the watercolours differ in size they seem to have been intended as a unified series, perhaps embodying Blake’s own commentary on their texts” (p. 336). Any illustration by Blake inevitably embodies his own commentary on the text, but we cannot decide on the basis of that observation whether these illustrations are independent works, each a separate interpretation of a specific text, or a “unified series” that we are to interpret as an interrelated entity with its own intentional structure.
We are on firmer ground when constructing subgroups among the biblical water colors on the basis of the physical and chronological facts that Butlin places at our finger tips. I list below some of these clusters.48↤ 48 Subsets a (the three main pairs), b, c, and d (#519-22 and “possibly” #518) are noted by Butlin, pp. 336, 360-61, 369. Bindman, Blake as an Artist, pp. 131, 164-65, notes subsets b and c (which he apparently joins together) and d (#519-22, excluding #518). My purpose here is less to contribute new details about these groupings than to summarize the current state of research.
a. At least three pairs formed by parallels in subject and composition. These are #453, “Samson Breaking his Bonds,” and #455, “Samson Subdued,” both c. 1800-1803;49↤ 49 The untraced #454, “Samson and the Philistines,” may mean that this is a group of three, not two. #488, “Mary Magdalene Washing begin page 41 | ↑ back to top Christ’s Feet,” and #489, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” C. 1803-1805; and #511, “The Death of St. Joseph,” and #512, “The Death of the Virgin,” both inscribed “1803.” The similarities in compositional format and coloring indicate that these pairs—unlike groupings based solely on interpretive insights—were probably intentional. Other pairings are possible, but far less certain—e.g., #466, “By the Waters of Babylon,” and #472, “The Repose of the Holy Family in Egypt,” both of 1806. It is not surprising, and perhaps not very significant, that #509, “St. Paul Shaking off the Viper,” and #510, “St. Paul and the Viper,” are similarly constructed because they picture immediately successive events in the same location.
b. A group picturing the Crucifixion and Entombment, begun in 1800 and completed no later than 1803. Butlin, p. 360, includes in this group #494, “Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves”; #495, “The Soldiers Casting Lots for Christ’s Garment”; and #499, “Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch.” These three each measure about 40 × 32 cm., but I would tentatively add, for reasons of style and subject, two slightly smaller works: #491, “Judas Betrays Him” (36.6 × 30.1 cm.); and #496, “Christ Nailed to the Cross: The Third Hour” (33.2 × 34.6 cm.). Butlin dates the Judas c. 1803-1805, but I would date it no later than 1803 because, like all the members of this group, it exhibits Fuseli’s influence in its exaggerated gestures and almost caricature-like faces.
c. A group, executed c. 1805, picturing the Crucifixion, Entombment, and Resurrection. Butlin, pp. 336 and 361, includes the following because of their similar sizes, formats, and “near-monochromatic colouring”: #497, “The Crucifixion: ‘Behold thy Mother’”; #498, “The Entombment” (illus. 18); #500, “Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels”; #501, “The Angel Rolling the Stone away from the Sepulchre”; #502, “The Resurrection”; #504, “The Magdalene at the Sepulchre.” To these six Butlin tentatively adds #487, “The Raising of Lazarus” (a typological prefiguration of #502?); and #505, “The Ascension.” The latter is much more brightly colored than the others, as is appropriate for its subject; this coloring and the prominent use of pen and pencil outlining suggest a slightly earlier date, c. 1803-1805. #498, 500-502, and 504 are strongly linked because they all picture Christ’s tomb from a low perspective, contain an arched doorway as a central background motif, and have a highly symmetrical arrangement of figures (see illus. 18).
d. Beasts from the Book of Revelation, all c. 1803-1805, all similar in size and format, and all signed with the WB monogram. This group consists of #519, “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” (Brooklyn Museum); #520, the same subject in the National Gallery of Art; #521, “The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea” (National Gallery of Art); and #522, “The Number of the Beast is 666” (Rosenbach Museum, Philadelphia). I would tentatively add #518, “And the Angel which I saw Lifted up his Hand to Heaven,” executed c. 1805 perhaps as a contrary exemplar to the four beasts. Early preludes to this group of five are #517, “Death on a Pale Horse” (with coloring similar to #518), and #524, “He Cast him into the Bottomless Pit” (often called “Michael Binding the Dragon”), both c. 1800. One might even include #523, “The Whore of Babylon” (1809) as a late addition to the apocalyptic company.
The chronology of composition of the eight water colors in the last subdivision (d) offers a clue to how such groups, when not simply the productions of interpreters, evolved over a number of years. Blake began with two compositionally distinct and independent works, #517 and #524, possibly without any thought of creating a series of illustrations to Revelation. In about 1803 he returned, at his own or Butts’ behest, to the subject, producing #519 and #521. Shortly thereafter he expanded the pair to a quartet with the addition of #520 and #522. Blake then drew #518 as a balance to the family of horrid creatures, both an addition to the group and a release from it. Some four years later, he returned to the apocalyptic beasts for #523, clearly distinct in color and format from the earlier cluster. Our sense, and possibly Blake’s, of a planned series comes after the initial compositions, becomes definite in the middle period with the purposefully interrelated #519-22, and then dissipates as compositions on related subjects lead toward new styles and meanings. There is no program prior to composition. It grows organically in the course of, and as a consequence of, work with pencil, paint, and paper. It does not end neatly and suddenly, but extends its influence through later works.
The foregoing scenario contains a good deal of speculation, but at least it accords with Blake’s theories of composition. He seems to have put into practice in such cases his insistence on the unity of conception and execution, thought and deed, mind and hand. I hope we can give additional authority to those interpretations informed by a sense of Blake’s conceptual/compositional processes.
Comments on individual entries follow.
#381, “Lot and his Daughters” (Huntington Library; illus. 19). Recent observation with ultraviolet illumination has shown that much of the background and landscape on the right in this tempera have been repainted. The lines (visible in Butlin’s reproduction and in illus. 19) forming a rectangle, well within the outer edges of the image and framing the figures, seem to be the result of an earlier matting, perhaps to cover once-damaged areas. These lines are not directly related to overpainting or other repair efforts. The extensive restorations to this tempera are hardly unique; most of those painted c. 1799-1800 are in bad shape and have been restored at least once—in some cases as many as three times. A case in point is #394, “Job and his Daughters” (National Gallery of Art), which looks at first glance to be in fair condition today but was described by W. M. Rossetti as “fearfully dilapidated” in the 1863 edition of Gilchrist’s Life of Blake. Someone has done a lot of work on it in the last 118 years.
#387, “Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf” (Ian Phillips Collection). The plate reference should be to 487, not “407.”begin page 42 | ↑ back to top
#401, “The Nativity” (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Sessler’s records indicate that the firm purchased this tempera in April 1938 from Wells for $4050 and sold it in December to Mrs. Tonner for $4500.
#422, “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem.” Butlin locates this work at “Pollock House, Corporation of Glasgow.” Hilary Macartney of the Glasgow Museums & Art Galleries informs me that the Corporation of Glasgow was replaced by the Glasgow District Council in 1974. The same correction pertains to #427, 639, 653, 667, and 668. Ms. Macartney also tells me that neither this tempera nor any other Blakes (#639, 653, 667, 668) from the Stirling-Maxwell Collection were given “in lieu of death duties,” as Butlin claims.
#426, “The Body of Christ Borne to the Tomb” (Tate Gallery; illus. 20). Butlin quotes, with apparent approval, Bindman’s claim that Joseph of Arimathea is “prominent” in this tempera and in #427, “The Entombment” (Pollock House, Glasgow; illus. 21).50↤ 50 Bindman, Blake as an Artist, p. 124. If present in the latter, he must be the central figure holding an incense jar. There are two patriarchal figures in #426, but Joseph is probably the figure third from the right with the same very long beard and jar pictured in #427. Further, his walking stick is an appropriate prophecy of his legendary sermon, pictured in Blake’s relief color print “Joseph of Arimathea Preaching to Inhabitants of Britain,” during which his staff turned into a thorn tree. However, in his entry on #427, Butlin identifies the central figure as Nicodemus arriving “with myrrh and aloes.” Neither the Gospels nor the apocryphal Book of Nicodemus offers a definitive textual answer; in John XIX:38-39, both are present at Christ’s tomb. On the visual evidence alone, one is tempted to claim that the two longbeards in #426 and 427 must be the same man. Yet if we turn to the water color of “The Entombment” (Butlin #489; illus. 18), we find two aged twins on the left, one of whom is probably Nicodemus and the other Joseph of Arimathea. But which is which? Clearly, we cannot be certain that two figures in different works are the same character just because they look very similar, or even identical. Butlin’s inconsistency in calling the old man in #427 both Joseph and Nicodemus points to a general problem in interpreting Blake’s designs. Who said Blake’s old men all look alike?begin page 43 | ↑ back to top
#445, “Moses Striking the Rock” (Lutheran Church in America, Philadelphia). According to their records, Sessler’s purchased the drawing from Angew’s in December 1964 for $7000 and sold it to Mrs. Tonner for $7700.
#458, “The Ghost of Samuel Appearing to Saul” (National Gallery of Art; illus. 22). Early reproductions and descriptions, as well as a few extant examples, indicate that at least some of the biblical water colors executed for Butts were mounted on large sheets inscribed in a fine copperplate-type hand with the appropriate texts. I know of no evidence that these works were ever bound, but the careful mounting and inscribing indicate that they were probably intended to be kept together in an album or portfolio to form an illustrated selection of biblical passages. The physical arrangement of central design and surrounding text foreshadows the format of the Job engravings.
“The Ghost of Samuel Appearing to Saul” is one of the few water colors that have not had the inscriptions removed. It is reproduced with this review in full illus. 22—I believe for the first time.51↤ 51 The A. E. Newton auction catalogue, Parke-Bernet, 16 April 1941, p. 46, contains a reproduction that vaguely records only the inscriptions below the design. The inscription just below the right corner of the design, “1st Samuel 28th ch: 12th to 21,” records the passage illustrated, but not all the quoted and paraphrased lines. “And Saul said . . . ” above the image is from 1 Samuel 28:7, with the initial “Then” of the King James version changed to “And.” The first sentence below the design (“Andbegin page 44 | ↑ back to top Saul said to the woman, bring me up Samuel.”) is a modification of verse 11, “Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.” The next sentence (“And when the woman . . . ”) is taken from verse 12, with further modifications (“The woman spake” changed to “spake”). The remaining inscriptions follow the Bible through verse 19, with a few clauses elided and new ones compounded from remaining phrases. None of the changes creates any substantive additions or subtractions.
Butlin (pp. 335-36) offers two possible scribes as the author of the mount inscriptions: Mrs. Blake (as Graham Robertson suggested), or a member of the Butts family prior to 1852. If the former, I doubt that she would have modified the biblical text, in ways exemplified by #458, without specific directions to do so from her husband. If the latter, we must believe, on the basis of these examples alone, that Thomas Butts or some member of his family was a skilled calligrapher. We should also consider the possibility that Blake himself executed the inscriptions[e]. Although it is always difficult to attribute a formal, stylized hand, the inscriptions on “The Ghost of Samuel” are not incompatible with the most elegant copperplate lettering in the Vala manuscript. These biblical inscriptions have generally been ignored in the past, but certainly future studies of the biblical water colors must take them into account.
#462, “David Delivered out of Many Waters” (Tate Gallery; illus. 23). One of the organizational hypotheses worth testing in the biblical water colors is the presence of a typological format, both within individual works and between New and Old Testament subjects. This composition, with a cruciform gesture reflected between David and Christ, offers clear evidence of Blake’s use of the figural tradition. It is easy to read other Old Testament illustrations typologically if one attends to the subjects alone. What we need to find are compositional parallels, like the one within “David Delivered,” that indicate specific figural relationships among the Old and New Testament designs. I have yet to find a clear pattern of such parallels.
#481, “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.” The “Private Collection” in which Butlin locates this version of the composition is that of Philip Hofer, Cambridge, Mass., who is named as the owner in the Philadelphia (1939) and National Gallery of Art (1957) exhibition catalogues.
#524, “He Cast Him into the Bottomless Pit,” often called “Michael Binding the Dragon” (Fogg Art Museum). The reference should be to Plate 585, not “524.”
XV. Illustrations to Milton’s Poems, c. 1801-1820
Butlin brings these much-studied illustrations together in proper chronological order of composition and reproduces all of them in color. It is especially helpful to have the three Paradise Lost series—those for Rev. Thomas, Butts, and Linnell—sorted out once and for all. Perhaps the most obvious facts are the most important to keep in mind when studying the complex iconography of the Milton designs: the number of images, their range and diversity, and the considerable length of time over which they were executed. To the central group of ninety compositions catalogued in this section we can add seven early works (#101-106, 259) and a few later ones (#781A, perhaps untraced #835-39) with Miltonic subjects, several sketches in Blake’s Notebook, and a few designs in Milton. Butlin’s brief comparisons of motifs and compositional formats between early and later series of illustrations to the same poem will be particularly valuable to future interpreters.
#532, sketch for “Satan Watching the Endearments of Adam and Eve” (Keynes Collection). The reference should be to Plate 724, not “714.”
#543.1, “Mirth” in the L’Allegro illustrations (Pierpont Morgan Library). Butlin writes that Jean Hagstrum has related this composition “to Golzius’ ‘Sun God’ engraving.” Hagstrum’s reference is not to this water color but to #543.3, “The Sun at his Eastern Gate.”52↤ 52 Hagstrum, William Blake Poet and Painter (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1964), pp. 46, 50.
XVI. Illustrations to Shakespeare, c. 1806-1825
Like Fuseli, Blake was much attracted to Queen Katharine’s dream in Henry VIII, executing four treatments of the subject (#247, 547.3, 548, 549). The last two, executed in 1807 and 1825, are clearly superior to Blake’s other Shakespearean efforts. These indicate not only his growth as an artist, but also how much his interests centered on scenes of transmundane insight. These evoked his artistic talents far more successfully than earthbound passages in Shakespeare’s plays.
XVII. Illustrations to the Book of Job, c. 1805-1826
Perhaps some of us have become used to thinking of the Job designs as productions of Blake’s final years because of the late date of the engravings. Such chronological distortions are corrected by Butlin’s setting out the four main series and twelve independent works—a total of seventy-four images—in proper order. He provides a most convincing argument for dating all but two compositions (see comments on #550. 17, 20, below) in the Butts series to c. 1805-1806, contemporary with the Grave illustrations. The progressive development of all the Job designs casts further doubt on the authenticity of the “New Zealand” set, now in Paul Mellon’s collection. That series follows the last state of the engravings for those plates, such as 16, in which there are design changes in successive proof states. Thus the New Zealand set did not play a role in the development of the designs culminating in the engravings. They must have been executed after the completion of the engraved series. Butlin is right in excluding the begin page 45 | ↑ back to top New Zealand set from the canon and attributing it to Linnell, who may have been assisted by members of his family or his students.
#550.17, “The Vision of Christ,” and #550.20, “Job and his Daughters,” in the Butts set of water colors (Pierpont Morgan Library). Butlin offers good reasons for believing that these are late additions, perhaps left unfinished at Blake’s death and completed by Mrs. Blake. Lindberg’s theory53↤ 53 Bo Lindberg, William Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job (Åbo, Finland: Åbo Akademi, 1973), pp. 19, 325, 345. that they were executed at the same time as the rest of the series and were finished by Butts does not account for the differences in paper, basic conception of the figures, or the resemblances between their style and Blake’s late works. Thus the Butts set was originally conceived as a series of nineteen designs, and these two subjects were first introduced in the Linnell set of 1821.54↤ 54 Butlin first presented these arguments in “Cataloguing William Blake,” Blake in his Time, ed. Essick and Pearce, pp. 86-87. We know that Blake borrowed the Butts set back from its owner in September 1821 so that Linnell could make tracings of them for a new set.55↤ 55 Bentley, Blake Records (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 274. Apparently Butts learned at some point of the two new designs and commissioned versions to and to his set. There is no evidence supporting Gilchrist’s contention that the relationship between Blake and Butts “grew cool” in the 1820s; indeed, Gilchrist’s own statement that “one of the last, if not the very last, works bought by Mr. Butts of Blake, was the original series of twenty-one watercolour drawings or Inventions from the Book of Job,”56↤ 56 Life of William Blake (London: Macmillan, 1863), I, 282. may be a slightly confused reference to the late acquisition of these two designs. The possibility of contact between Butts and Mrs. Blake after her husband’s death is suggested by Butts’ acquisition of posthumous copy I of Jerusalem.
#551.6, “Satan Smiting Job with Boils” in the Linnell set of water colors (Fogg Art Museum). Butlin is very good at pointing out Linnell’s “misunderstandings” when he traced the outlines from the Butts set. For example, in this composition Job’s right hand, not pictured in Butts’ version, has been added. Butlin, however, does not comment on the fact that we can still see the landscape background drawn right through the hand, suggesting that it was added after the original tracing. The right hand appears in all later versions—the reduced drawings, the engravings, and the tempera (#807) of c. 1826. Perhaps Blake, when finishing the outlines, introduced this new feature. Alternatively, Linnell could have returned to the drawing after seeing the later versions to make his water color set compatible with them.
#553, “Every Man also Gave him a Piece of Money, Alternative Composition,” located by Butlin in a private British collection but recently acquired and exhibited by the Tate Gallery. This delicate drawing (illus. 24) is an interesting but rejected variant executed before the engravings, c. 1821-1823. Both water color sets have a very different composition, with a horizontal major axis, representing this event. In this drawing, and again in the reduced sketches (#557.43) for the engravings, Blake changed to a vertical format and created a design that would be a reflective contrary to plate 5. The thematic contrasts between giving and receiving, between outer charity according to the law and inner humility according to the spirit, would thereby be strengthened. But Blake returned to the horizontal design of the water colors, creating a juxta position of plates 19 and 4 because of their similar positioning of Job and his wife beneath a tree and before stone columns. The emphasis is now on the contrasts between receiving destructive news in the midst of Job’s pride and receiving lifegiving sustenance in the midst of Job’s humility. Butlin suggests (p. 432) that Blake returned to his first version because “the vision of God [in the alternative composition] is so similar to that in plate 20.” An even closer parallel is with God in plate 13; Blake may have felt that three similar representations was one too many.
#557, “Sketchbook Containing Twenty-Seven Drawings for the Engraved Illustrations to the Book of Job Together with Other Drawings” (Fitzwilliam Museum). In his introductory comments on these reduced drawings, p. 426, Butlin notes that Linnell’s comment that “the Borders [on the Job plates] were an afterthought and designed as well as engraved upon the copper without a previous drawing”57↤ 57 Linnell’s letter of 27 September 1844 to Charles Wentworth Dilke, now in Keynes’ collection (see Bentley, Blake Records, pp. 326-27). is a “slight exaggeration, particularly as there also exists a set of trial proofs [in the National Gallery of Art, Washington] with sketches for the borders.” Linnell’s statement is correct when properly understood within the context of graphic procedures that would normally have required fairly detailed, full-size preliminary drawings of any images engraved on the copper. Butlin claims that pages 7, 9, and 11 of the Fitzwilliam sketchbook contain “indications suggesting the borders”; but the first and second of these show at most a few squiggles resembling lines of text rather than pictures, and the last bears vague indications of a border completely unlike the one in the engraving of plate 3. Among the early proofs with border sketches, only those of plates 1, 2, and 10 bear even a slight resemblance to the engraved versions. The development of the border decorations appears to have begun with the reduced sketches, with an emphasis on texts rather than designs. Next, Blake used some very early proofs (#559.1-6) of the engravings to sketch out possible border compositions. Linnell’s statement that there was no “previous drawing” (i.e., a direct preliminary) is not contradicted by these alternative first-thought sketches. By “designed . . . upon the copper” he simply means that the final drawings were made on the copper in pencil or chalk around the central panels, already developed to a fairly high level of finish. In that sense, the framing designs were indeed an “afterthought.” The border drawings were then scratched into the copper in drypoint, fragments of which can still be seen as light shadow lines next to letters and lines on some early impressions. Finally, these lightly incised outlines were worked over with the graver.
XVIII. Drawings and Separate Designs Related to Milton and Jerusalem, c. 1804-1820
#566, Sketch for Jerusalem plate 26, “Hand Appearing to Jerusalem” (British Museum). Butlin usually notes the presence of glue spots, indicating that a drawing may have been fixed face down to another sheet for transfer, but he overlooks their clear presence on begin page 46 | ↑ back to top58↤ 58 The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1965), p. 672. The use of transfer for white-line plates does not indicate that Blake used a similar method to prepare his black-line relief etchings of designs or texts. Although often combined on the same plate, the two media are very different in both appearance and method of execution.
Viscomi’s important discovery of a plate mark on this sketch and his interpretation of its significance provide very strong evidence for Blake’s use of transfer for the white-line relief etching on Jerusalem plate 26. Viscomi has also suggested in conversation that Blake used the same technique for all his white-line plates. The pencil sketch for the white-line headpiece to Little Tom the Sailor (#359 recto) would seem to be a similar drawing prepared for transfer, but in its present state it lacks glue spots and a plate mark. The printed headpiece measures 11.1 × 16.1 cm., just within the 11.6 × 16.5 cm. size of the drawing. Thus there should be some remaining evidence of transfer if the drawing had been used for that purpose.
#578, Jerusalem plate 51 (Keynes Collection), and #579, Jerusalem plate 51 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). Butlin describes each of these separate impressions as a “line engraving printed in relief.” This may be a little misleading because “line engraving” is generally taken to be an intaglio medium. Further, the plate is basically an etching, although some tool work may have been added. The best term for the technique is “white-line relief etching.”begin page 47 | ↑ back to top
XIX. Miscellaneous Drawings, c. 1805-1820
#591, “A Standing Figure and Two Drawings of a Face” (Essick Collection; illus. 25). In his provenance information, Butlin does not include the fact that Paul Grinke sold this drawing to Quaritch, or placed it on consignment with that firm, before I purchased it in October 1970. The proof of the frontispiece to Bürger’s Leonora on the verso bears pencil indications for further work which was added to the plate in the published state. These markings may have been made by Blake. On the recto above the “Blake” inscription (lower right, not by Blake) are indistinct traces of two lines of partially erased letters. Butlin suggests that both the heads were executed at a later time than the standing figure, but the same black chalk or soft lead pencil seems to have been used for both the figure and the head lower left. He also suggests that the figure is “just possibly Satan arousing his legions,” but does not note the slight indications of an alternative right arm position just above the horizontal (see illus. 25). This arm position brings the sketch closer to Satan’s posture in “Satan Calling up his Legions” in the Huntington series of Paradise Lost illustrations (#529.1) and in the tempera of “Satan Calling up his Legions” (#662). The dating of all three works makes it possible that this awkward little sketch records an early stage in the development of the main figure in the two finished compositions.
#598-601, a group of four sheets of pencil studies bearing six related designs. Five of these studies are reproduced here, illus. 26-30. Butlin groups these compositions together “for the first time” (p. 444), dating them all c. 1805 and suggesting that “all are perhaps related to Blake’s commission to illustrate Blair’s Grave” (p. 450). All these sketches of about the same size are on unused sheets from Hayley’s 1802 Ballads. They form an interrelated group or series well worth study. The dominant motif is a devilish-looking fellow, somewhat similar to the figure on p. 75 of Blake’s Notebook, standing in various attitudes of amazement or fright before a gothic church (#598, 599 recto, 600 verso; see illus. 26, 27, 30). On the back of #599, Blake sketched out other sorts of figures against a similar background (illus. 28), and continued to work out this type of composition in #601. On the recto of #600 he tried an even more elaborate design (illus. 29), apparently of a resurrection scene. Slight hints of a church facade and portal remain, but the soaring and embracing figures would seem to be contraries to the devilish or desperate characters in the other sketches.
Butlin’s proposal that the group is related to the Grave illustrations can be supported through a comparison with #636, “The Gambols of the Ghosts” (Yale Center for British Art; illus. 31). Although the textual basis for this elaborate composition is slight, it may well be the “Gambols of the Ghosts according with their affections previous to the final Judgment” mentioned by Flaxman in his letter to Hayley of 18 October 1805 describing Grave illustrations that Blake was then preparing.59↤ 59 Bentley, Blake Records, p. 166. Besides the general similarities in tone and apparent themes between this Grave design and the series discussed here, one can also point out similar motifs such as the church door and facade on the left with humbled figures before it (illus. 28), heads with their bodies seemingly buried in the ground (illus. 28), soaring and twisting figures (illus. 29), and the flying character, just above those entering the church, who may be holding a whip (#601, not reproduced here). Another link to the Grave designs is suggested by #624 verso, “The Ascension of the Beatified Soul” (illus. 32). This too is on Ballads paper and has the same vertical format, scale, and portal motif as the #598-601 series. Butlin tentatively dates this sketch c. 1807, but I see no reason why it could not have been drawn a year or two earlier. On the recto is a preliminary sketch for “The Death of the Strong Wicked Man” among the published Grave illustrations. Butlin suggests that the verso drawing (illus. 32) may have been “done in connection with the Dedication” to the Grave, but his cryptically brief “cf. also Nos. . . . 598-601” hints at a connection with that series. It may well be part of the group, following #600 (illus. 29) as an appropriate conclusion to a pictorial tale of fright, despair, death, resurrection, and ascension.
The circumstantial and thematic associations between this series and the Grave designs imply a chronology of composition beginning with Cromek’s commission. After the “Gambols of the Ghosts” was rejected, for whatever reasons, Blake may have decided to develop it, and other Graveyard motifs, into a series of compositions. Blake may even have created his oddly devilish but apparently frightened figure (illus. 26, 27, 30) out of Blair’s description of the schoolboy in “The lone church-yard” who runs from an imagined presence “purring at his heels” (see discussion of #342, above). Since the lucrative job of executing his Grave designs had been taken away from Blake, he may have begun this series as a way of salvaging something for himself from the project. It might have been developed into an important series of finished water colors or prints, but we have no evidence that it ever progressed beyond these first thoughts in pencil.
#607 verso, “Upper Part of a Nude Demon” (George Goyder Collection). The reference should be to Plate 48, not “50.”
XX. Illustrations to Robert Blair’s The Grave, c. 1805-1807
Butlin’s complete listing of all the extant Grave designs deepens one’s bewilderment over why none of the finished preliminary drawings have survived. Cromek must have passed them on to Schiavonetti and his journeymen for rendering in copper, and presumably they were returned to the publisher. After that, one cannot even speculate on their destiny. Among the rejected designs, only one (#635; see comments below) is a finished wash drawing of the sort normally prepared as the immediate preliminary for an engraving, although #633, “A Widow Embracing her Husband’s Grave,” comes close.begin page 48 | ↑ back to top begin page 49 | ↑ back to top
A few corrections and comments on individual entries follow.
Page 455, second line. The proof of “Death’s Door” engraved by Schiavonetti is dated Feby 1st 1806, not “12 February 1806.”
#616, “Second Alternative Design for Title-Page: A Spirit Rising from the Tomb” (Huntington Library). Inscribed “A Series of Designs: Illustrative of The Grave. a Poem by Robert Blair. Invented & Drawn by William Blake 1806.” In his provenance information, Butlin records the possible sale of this drawing from the collection of Frederick Tatham at Sotheby’s, 29 April 1862, in lot 159 with seven other works (7s. to Smith). This lot contained a work described in the sale catalogue as “Spirit rising from the Tomb”—a title that could fit several drawings by Blake.60↤ 60 Martin Butlin generously supplied me with a photostat of this part of the auction catalogue. Dennis M. Read has recently discovered, and very kindly allowed me to record here, that this drawing was still in the possession of Thomas H. Cromek, Robert H. Cromek’s son, as late as 1865.61↤ 61 Dr. Read (not “Reid,” the spelling used by Butlin on p. 464, #635) is currently writing a book on R. H. Cromek. He has gained access to, and carefully studied, the paper of T. H. Cromek still in the possession of Cromek’s descendants. See Read, “A New Blake Engraving: Gilchrist and the Cromek Connection,” Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 14 (1980), 60-64. According to Read, T. H. Cromek wrote his manuscript “Memorials of R. H. Cromek” in that year. He states therein that “The original design for the Frontispiece [sic?], still in my possession, was suppressed, and one much finer substituted. It is a pen outline, slightly shaded with Indian ink, and blue, and represents a soul rising from the tomb, on which Blake has written, very neatly, this title:—‘A Series of Designs illustrative of The Grave—a Poem by Robert Blair Invented & Drawn by William Blake 1806.’” The concluding quotation makes it absolutely certain that Cromek is referring to #616. It is unlikely that the drawing was intended as a “frontispiece” or title page for the Grave illustrations published in R. H. Cromek’s 1808 edition. The ratio of height to width is inappropriate for a folio or quarto volume, and the inscription “Invented & Drawn” suggests that this title-page was created for a series of drawings, not engravings.
The correction of provenance is not merely a pedant’s fine-tuning. The inscribed date of 1806 might suggest that this drawing—like the similarly dated #613, a title page design showing a resurrection scene (British Museum)—was executed as part of an independent project. After he learned of Cromek’s perfidy by late 1805, Blake may have attempted to assemble a collection of Grave drawings as a way of rescuing something of his own from an otherwise thoroughly depressing situation.62↤ 62 This rationale is very tentatively proposed in Robert N. Essick and Morton D. Paley, Robert Blair’s The Grave Illustrated by William Blake (London: Scolar Press, 1982). See also comments on the #598-601 series, above. But such speculations must be dismissed if Cromek commissioned and acquired the drawing. His son’s ownership of it in 1865 argues strongly that he did. We know that Cromek was exhibiting “the original Drawings” for the Grave illustrations in Birmingham in July 1806.63↤ 63 Birmingham Gazette and Birmingham Commercial Herald, 28 July 1806. See Geoffrey Keynes, “Blake in the Provinces,” Blake Newsletter, 9 (1975), 41-42. This drawing may have been prepared expressly as a title page for a portfolio of drawings Cromek carried about with him to advertise his forthcoming publication, although it seems a bit misleading to include a design not part of the group selected for engraving.
#626, “Death of a Voluptuary” (untraced since 1863). Butlin traces this India ink drawing through the collections of Frederick Tatham and F. T. Palgrave, but loses its track after W. M. Rossetti’s 1863 begin page 50 | ↑ back to top description in Gilchrist’s Life of Blake, II, 241: “Interesting as being a close parallel in design, but not in character, to that of ‘The Soul hovering over the Body,’ engraved in the ‘Grave’; not at all like the engraved ‘Death of the Strong Wicked Man.’ The dead voluptuary is crowned with vine-leaves; his soul, a female figure expressive of coarse passions, contemplates him with repulsion. Scratchy and rather ugly in execution.” The same, or a very similar, drawing was described by S. Foster Damon in 1924: “Mr. Gabriel Wells [a New York dealer] owns a hansome ink sketch of the Death of the Voluptuary, which was never engraved for this series [i.e., the Grave illustrations]. The youth, naked and crowned with vines, lies on the ground; above him his Emanation hovers with uplifted hands. On the back of the sheet is a pencil-sketch, also marked ‘Blair’s Grave’: it represents Jesus intervening between Achilles and Agamemnon, before a crowd of warriors (Christian Forbearance quelling Pagan Pride).”64↤ 64 Damon, William Blake his Philosophy and Symbols (London: Constable, 1924), p. 217 n. 4. The intriguing verso sketch is not catalogued by Butlin.
#635, “Death Pursuing the Soul through the Avenues of Life” (Essick Collection). In his provenance information, Butlin states that “Harvey” had this drawing “by 1863.” Dennis Read, however, has discovered that T. H. Cromek still had it in his possession in May or June 1863 when he mentioned it in his manuscript “Recollections of Conversations with Mr. John Pye.” Read believes that Cromek did not dispose of the drawing until 1866 at the earliest. Butlin also proposes that “Death Pursuing” was in the George A. Smith sale at Christie’s, 16 July 1880, lot 119 (£1.15s. to Dowdeswell). Lot 119 is described in the auction catalogue as a “Sketch in Indian ink—supposed to be a composition to represent the same sentiment as that in ‘The Grave,’ called, ‘The Soul visiting the Recesses of the Grave.’” “Death Pursuing” is highly finished in sepia washes, not sketched in ink, and it seems odd to describe either the falling woman or Urizenic male pictured in it as a visiting soul. However, the auction catalogue description accords well with Rossetti’s description (Gilchrist, Life of Blake, 1863, II, 241) of Butlin’s #630: “A young Man entering Death’s Door. . . . Indian ink. Probably a preparatory version of ‘The Soul exploring the Recesses of the Grave.’” I suspect that Smith acquired #630, not #635, at some time after 1870, when it was owned by A. H. Bright, and sold it in 1880. Alas, #630 is now untraced.
#635 was exhibited in 1976 at California State University, Northridge, California—not “Northridge, New York.”
#637, “An Allegory of Human Life” (untraced since 1863). Butlin groups this with the Grave illustrations, apparently because Rossetti (Gilchrist, Life of Blake, 1863, II, 251) suggests that “there is probably some relation between” this composition and #636, “The Gambols of the Ghosts.” However, Rossetti stars his entry for #637 to indicate considerable size, states that it is “a different composition, and to a considerable extent a different idea, from” #636, and goes on to describe it as containing “a great number of figures, highly finished, representing various aspects of the soul
XXI. The Last Judgment, 1806-1827
This brief section of five and a half pages includes some of Blake’s greatest compositions on a theme of immense importance to his thought and art from begin page 51 | ↑ back to top
#646, “The Last Judgment—Tracing” (estate of Gregory Bateson, California). Butlin comments that this tracing is “not without life and possibly by Blake.” But a comparison with #645, on which it is based, shows a considerable difference in strength of line. I should think a fence sitting phrase like “possibly but not probably by Blake” would be more appropriate. This work cannot be traced with confidence prior to the 1880s.
XXII. Blake’s Exhibition, 1809
#653, “Sir Jeffery Chaucer and the Nine and Twenty Pilgrims on their Journey to Canterbury” (Pollok House, Glasgow). There should be a reference to Plate 587, a color reproduction of a detail from the tempera, as well as the reference to Plate 878. Butlin states that there is a handcolored impression of the engraving “ex David McC. McKell, sold Parke-Bernet 24 April 1945 (39).” This is a little misleading. This second state impression, partially and very lightly tinted with water colors, was sold from the collection of Frank J. Hogan at Parke-Bernet in the 1945 sale that Butlin records. It was acquired in the same year by McKell, from whom it passed to his son, Dr. David McKell. The print is now in the collection of a descendant of Dr. McKell’s in central California. The pencil inscription on it states that it was given to Tatham by Mrs. Blake, not “Mr. Blake” as Butlin writes. The other hand colored example, now in Keynes’ collection, is, like the McKell print, a second state impression.
There are several different accounts of Cromek’s involvement in Blake’s work on the painting and engraving of Chaucer’s pilgrims. Butlin cites the version that Linnell wrote in a copy of J. T. Smith’s Nollekens and his Times, and states that Cromek “commissioned the painting from Blake.” Linnell’s actual words are, “Cromec [sic] according to Blake employed or engaged him to finish the frescoes as he called it of the Canterbury Pilgrims. . . .”65↤ 65 Bentley, Blake Records, p. 464 n. 1. The word “finish” in this statement is crucial. If Cromek “commissioned” the painting as Butlin states, then the idea for such a work may have been Cromek’s, as is claimed in the “Biographical Sketch of Robert Hartley Cromek” in the 1813 edition of Blair’s Grave.66↤ 66 Robert Blair, The Grave (London: R. Ackermann, 1813), p. xlviii. This anonymous account probably reflects Cromek’s, or Mrs. Cromek’s, own defense of his actions. His hiring of Stothard to execute a similar Canterbury design would then be only the withdrawal of a commission from one artist and its bestowal on another—perhaps a tricky maneuver, but potentially defensible. Blake apparently claimed that Cromek stole the idea of a pilgrims panorama from him, not merely that he took a commission elsewhere. J. T. Smith says that Blake showed Cromek “the designs sketched out for a fresco picture” without prior prompting or commission, and Gilchrist states that Cromek saw “a pencil drawing” (perhaps #654?) of the pilgrims at Blake’s house.67↤ 67 Smith, Nollekens and his Times (London: Henry Colburn, 1828), II, 467; Gilchrist, Life of Blake, 1863, I, 203. Allan Cunningham’s account refers to Blake’s claim that Cromek had “commissioned him to paint the Pilgrimage,” but Cunningham makes no statement relevant to the priority of conception. See Cunningham, The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1830), II, 163. The preponderance of the “evidence”—if one can bestow that term on these secondhand accounts—indicates that Blake conceived of the composition and Cromek commissioned, if he commissioned anything, the finishing of the design and/or its engraving.
Butlin states that Schiavonetti’s engraving of Stothard’s “Pilgrimage to Canterbury” appeared “before Blake’s, in about November 1809.” This follows a comment made in that month (according to Bentley) by George Cumberland, Jr.: “have you seen the etching of Mr Stothards Pilgrims it is finished.”68↤ 68 Bentley, Blake Records, p. 220. However, the plate was left unfinished when Schiavonetti died on 7 June 1810, and an unfinished etched proof at the Yale Center for British Art is dated in the imprint 1 August 1810—only four months before the date on Blake’s plate. The plate of Stothard’s design, finished by Heath, was not published until 1 October 1817. George Cumberland, Jr. must have been referring only to begin page 52 | ↑ back to top the preliminary etching of the plate, if his statement is at all accurate. The only direct evidence for the appearance of the print points to a date of August 1810, not Butlin’s “about November 1809.” #654, “The Canterbury Pilgrims: Sketch for the Engraving” (Merlin Cunliffe, Armadale, Australia; illus. 33). Butlin states that this pencil drawing “is close to the engraving except that the group of figures on the extreme left is omitted and the background only barely indicated.” If this journal is up to its usual high standards in reproduction, a careful look at illus. 33 will show that the group on the extreme left is present and that the background, particularly the Tabard Inn, is more than just “barely indicated.”
Gilchrist (Life of Blake, 1863, I, 225) tells an interesting story about a drawing of the Canterbury Pilgrims. He states that the “original design” for either the painting or the print “hung over a door in [Blake’s] sitting-room.” When taken down it was “nearly effaced,” which Blake believed to have been caused by “some malignant spell.” When told of this, Flaxman “mildly expostulated, ‘Why! my dear sir! as if, after having left a pencil drawing so long exposed to air and dust, you could have expected otherwise!’” This is one of Gilchrist’s mini-dramas that cannot be accepted without question, but he might be referring to #654, the only extant pencil drawing of the composition. His account explains the rubbed, faded, and somewhat tattered condition of this drawing. The seven spots in a row (not mentioned by Butlin) just below the top edge suggest that the drawing was either hung on these marks or stuck face down to the copperplate for direct transfer.
#659, “The Goats, an Experiment Picture” (untraced since 1809). Butlin quotes Blake’s comment in his Descriptive Catalogue that he took this unusual subject “from the Missionary Voyage.” Blake is very probably referring to James Wilson, A Missionary Voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean, 1799, which contains, pp. 129-30, a scene very similar to Blake’s description of his painting.69↤ 69 Pointed out in William Blake’s Writings, ed. G. E. Bentley, Jr. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), II, 855 n.
XXIII. Tempera Paintings and Other Works, c. 1810-1825
#667, “Adam Naming the Beasts” (Pollock House, Glasgow; illus. 34). According to Hilary Macartney, Assistant Keeper, Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries, the painting is not “relined,” as Butlin describes it.
#667-670, “Adam Naming the Beasts,” “Eve Naming the Birds,” “The Virgin and Child in Egypt,” and “Christ Blessing” (illus. 34-37). Several scholars have pointed out that these four temperas of c. 1810, all of similar size and format, are an interrelated group. They can bear a closer examination.
The two males (illus. 34, 37), Old Adam and New, are clearly juxtaposed. The first is surrounded by images of the natural world, particularly the oak. Adam’s impending fall is foreshadowed by the bare trees in the background and by the serpent. Christ is framed by olive or laurel leaves70↤ 70 I am unable to identify the foliage with any horticultural precision. Both olive and laurel would be appropriate as emblems of Christ’s victory or plenitude. The leaves and fruit are similar to those surrounding the portraits of Dante, Spenser, Dryden, and Cowper in the “Heads of the Poets” series (#343.4, 9, 12, 17). These are identified by Butlin as bay, olive, bay or laurel, and “lilies of the valley” respectively. The last is an error—see comments on #343.17, above. Bay is simply another name for laurel; the “olive” in #343.9 looks very much like the bay or laurel in the other portraits. emblemizing his triumph over the pyramid of death in the right background. Adam raises his right hand to point to the spiritual world above, and hence detached from, him; Christ raises his right hand to bless us in the spirit of prophecy he has made manifest in this world.
Similar parallels and contrasts link the female portraits (illus. 35, 36). Their hand gestures are not identical and the precise meanings of these gestures are not altogether clear, but both would seem to be presenting the other beings in each design. The bird above Eve’s right hand shows upward flight and may thereby symbolize transcendence. The Virgin’s child is the very image of incarnation. Christ will, as the palm to his right reminds us, overcome the sin and death of the natural world in which Eve is situated, a world that has now solidified into the Egyptian tyranny suggested by the landscape background in #669. The animals and birds of Adam and Eve have been replaced by the Sphinx above the Virgin’s left shoulder, a union of man and beast that satanically parodies Christ’s union of man and God.begin page 53 | ↑ back to top
Each woman is also linked to her male companion. In the first pair, the natural female was created out of the male; in the second, the divine male was born of the female. As with the transcendence/incarnation pattern, the male/female relationships form a mirror-image structure—each homologous to, but the reverse of, the other. The portrayals of the Virgin and of Christ blessing are linked further through the date-bearing palm and pyramids in the first and the fruitful trees and single pyramid in the second.
We can of course arrange these four paintings in the chronological sequence of the events portrayed (as Butlin does in his catalogue entries) to form a pictorial narrative. But the group is far more than a sequential series. The form of the whole is spatial as well as temporal and depends upon multiple interconnections among all members of the group to generate meanings. I remain skeptical about discovering similar patterns in the biblical water colors Blake executed for Butts. If there is such a program, however, its complexity must be enormous because the number of possible interconnections of the type found in this cluster (#667-70) rises exponentially with the number of images.
Butlin does not question Rossetti’s titles, “Adam Naming the Beasts” and “Eve Naming the Birds.” In neither case is it certain that the act of naming is pictured. Butlin compares the former to the general frontispiece of Hayley’s 1802 Ballads (illus. 38) and implies that they have the same subject. The compositions are clearly related, and Adam gestures in the engraving with his left hand in a way almost identical to Eve in #668. In both portrayals of Adam, he may only be sitting among the animals and not naming them, as has been suggested for the Ballads frontispiece.71↤ 71 See Nancy Smith’s entry in William Blake in the Art of his Time, catalogue of an exhibition at the University of California, Santa Barbara, 24 February-28 March 1976, pp. 27-28. The inscribed text from Cowper’s The Task makes no mention of naming the animals; and Hayley, in a letter to John Johnson of 16 May 1802, calls the plate “adam, . . . surrounded [by] animals” (Bentley, Blake Records, p. 95).
#674, “The Virgin and Child” or “Black Madonna.” In the catalogue text, the owner is given as “Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia,” but in the caption to Plate 963 the work is located at the “Yale Center for British Art.” The painting hasbegin page 54 | ↑ back to top
Butlin presents good arguments for dating this rather damaged and apparently restored tempera somewhat earlier than the inscribed date of 1825. The general composition, torso of the child, and the Virgin’s hand gestures are very similar to #669, “The Virgin and Child in Egypt” (illus. 36) of 1810, and the impasto effects and dark tonality of the painting link it to works of c. 1809. Butlin writes that “the date ‘1825’ may, therefore, be either a mistaken restoration or a post-dating by Blake himself on a work of c. 1810-20.” We should all be used to Blake’s habit of apparent predating, in order to record the conception rather than execution of a work, but this would be the only example of postdating. Such a practice would open a most discomfiting can of worms. I trust that the inscribed date is the work of a mistaken restorer who, when he reinforced the gold on the inscription, changed Blake’s date (1815 perhaps, with a curved “1”?) to 1825.
#678, “Drawings from Bas Reliefs, a Sphinx, and Another Figure, for Rees’s Cyclopaedia” (collection of Albert S. Roe; illus. 39). The three preparatory sketches on this sheet offer the chance for a little speculation about Blake’s work for Rees. The lower panel is a preliminary for the bas relief of Zethus, Antiope, and Amphion engraved by Blake lower left on “Plate IV” of “Basso Relievo,” plates volume II of Rees’s Cyclopaedia (illus. 40). Lower right is a sketch for “Hercules and Apollo contending for the Tripod from the Villa Albani,” engraved on plate II of “Basso Relievo” signed “Bond sculp.” William Bond, who engraved after Reynolds and Westall and was a governor of the Society of Engravers founded in 1803, very probably executed this plate, perhaps in part after this or another drawing by Blake. We should—very tentatively—add plate II to the list of “Plates Engraved After Drawings by Blake.”72↤ 72 I first suggested that Blake had “something to do with the execution of” plates I and II in a review of Bentley’s Blake Books in Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 11 (Winter 1977-1978), 194. Could William Bond the engraver have anything to do with Blake’s “William Bond” in the Pickering Manuscript of c. 1803? In this case, as with the wood engraving of “The Giant Polypheme, from a Famous Picture by N. Poussin” in Thornton’s Pastorals of Virgil (1821), Blake did not “invent” the design but was only a middle-man between the original artist and the engraver.
The images at the top of the drawing (illus. 39) correspond to “An Egyptian Hieroglyphical Sphinx” and “Jupiter with the thunder and trident, a Greek gem of the oldest style”73↤ 73 According to the description of the plate in The Cyclopaedia, text volume III, end of the entry on “Basso Relievo” (no pagination). Blake engraved two antique gems for Hayley’s 1802 Ballads, executed a plate on “Gem Engraving” in the “Miscellany” section of Rees’s Cyclopaedia, and refers to antique gems approvingly in his annotations to Reynolds (c. 1808) and in his “Laocoön” separate plate (c. 1820). (Butlin’s “another figure” in his descriptive title) engraved on “Plate I” of “Basso Relievo” (illus. 41). This plate is unsigned, although there are lines and dots, lower right, that may be fragments of an engraver’s signature. As with “Plate II,” it is possible that part of the plate was based on a drawing by Blake. The full plate pictures Egyptian, Persian, and Greek artifacts, and Blake engraved works of all three types in his four signed plates of “Sculpture” in The Cyclopaedia. Some of these sculptures, like the Hindu basso relievo right center in illus. 41, are located in the British Museum.
Could Blake have also engraved “Basso Relievo Plate I” (illus. 41)? The attribution of commercial, highly conventional, and unsigned copy plates is begin page 55 | ↑ back to top always an uncertain business. Yet, plate I contains one feature linking it to Blake’s basso relievo plate IV (illus. 40) found in no other engraver’s work in The Cyclopaedia. Squiggle lines composed of stipple dots are used as background shading behind Zeus (center left) and on the steps beneath four Persians (bottom design) on plate I. These same types of lines appear on plate IV, most noticeably on the left side and base of the altar center left and on the top, left side, and base of the altar lower right. Blake also used this type of dotted line in all four of his “Sculpture” plates in The Cyclopaedia. This hardly provides evidence for a clear attribution, but it does contribute to the suspicion that Blake drew the images for, and perhaps even engraved, more plates for The Cyclopaedia than the inscribed signatures indicate.
I trust that the foregoing paragraphs sufficiently demonstrate my claim that Butlin’s monumental catalogue offers many opportunities for everyone to ride a favorite Blake hobbyhorse.
XXIV. Portrait Drawings, c. 1800-1825
#687, “James Barry” (Keynes Collection). Butlin follows Keynes in dating this crude, simple drawing to c. 1800. Might it not have been drawn many years earlier? Blake was very probably attracted to Barry as early as his apprentice years. The drawing bears no resemblance to the visionary heads filling the next section of the catalogue.
#688, “John Linnell” (National Gallery of Art). In this entry, Butlin comments that “Linnell met Blake in 1818, seeking advice about engraving his drawingbegin page 56 | ↑ back to top 74↤ 74 Bentley, Blake Records, p. 256. To employ a professional engraver for the purpose of “Laying in”75↤ 75 The words are used by Blake in his receipt of 19 September 1818 (see Bentley, Blake Records, p. 581). a portrait on the copper does not imply that the artist sought advice from the journeyman. By 1818, Linnell was already a superb engraver, as demonstrated by his 1813 portrait plate of the Baptist preacher John Martin. Indeed, if any advice was given it was probably in the opposite direction. Both Gilchrist and A. T. Story claim that Blake received efficacious advice from Linnell;76↤ 76 Gilchrist, Life of Blake, 1863, I, 285; Alfred T. Story, The Life of John Linnell (London: Richard Bentley, 1892), I, 224-25. Story, I, 158-59, denies Gilchrist’s claim that Linnell sought Blake’s advice on portrait engraving. the development of Blake’s intaglio engraving techniques after 1818 supports that claim.
#691, “Two Theatrical Portraits: Cooke and Kemble” (untraced since 1854). Butlin suggests that these may not have been by Blake. I suspect that they have something to do with the toy theatre prints that have sometimes been wrongly attributed to our Blake. One of these, signed “Blake fect.,” pictures “Mr. H. Kemble, as Massaniello.”
XXV. The “Visionary Heads,” c. 1819-1825
#692.121, “Varley: Zodiacal Figures and Counting for Geomancy, with a Head Looking Down,” from thebegin page 57 | ↑ back to top Blake-Varley Sketchbook (untraced since 1971; illus. 42). Butlin comments that “certain of Varley’s Zodiacal and other drawings are drawn over an unfinished sketch of a head seen from above, quite high in quality but presumably by Varley also.” At least this one example is very probably a portrait of Blake, heretofore unidentified as such (illus. 42, just above the center of the sheet). The high forehead, arch of the eyebrow, and “snub nose”77↤ 77 As Blake characterizes his nose in “The Everlasting Gospel” (c. 1818) in his Notebook, p. 33. are most characteristic. Varley may have made this quick but skillful sketch to capture Blake, with head bowed and eyes closed, in the midst of conjuring up one of the visionary heads. The portrait is similar—in point of view, closed eyes, and even knitted brow just above the eyes and nose—to Linnell’s well-known pencil drawing of Blake inscribed “1820” (illus. 43). Might Linnell’s sketch also record a visionary meditation?
#696, “The Egyptian Taskmaster Killed by Moses, and Saul, King of Israel” (collection of George Howard). Butlin traces this sheet bearing two visionary heads through the collections of John Varley, Albert Varley, and Alfred Aspland, from whose collection it was sold in 1885. A tracing of the Taskmaster alone, probably made by John Varley, is listed as #696A. Butlin gives no provenance for the tracing until its acquisition, apparently in the 1830s or early 1840s, by William Hawkins. There is also a reduced copy of the Taskmaster, formerly owned by Ruthven Todd and now in my collection (illus. 44). This drawings, or at least the inscriptions, may be the work of Adam White, who owned several visionary heads or counterproofs of them. White inscribed #740, a counterproof of Wat Tyler, in a hand very like the “Taskmaster” inscriptions.
Lower right on the “Taskmaster” (illus. 44) is written “Traced from an original of Blake’s belonging to Mr Lowrie.” The drawing is about fifteen percent smaller than Butlin’s dimensions (approx. 12 × 9 cm.) for both Blake’s original and Varley’s tracing. Further, the original is located in the possession of “Mr Lowrie”—probably Joseph Wilson Lowry, son of Wilson Lowry the engraver and John Varley’s brother-in-law, who also owned two visionary heads (#711, 740) he gave to Adam White in 1854. The inscription lower left (illus. 44) follows the wording on Blake’s drawing not found on Varley’s tracing, a fact that supports Lowry’s ownership of the original. Thus it seems likely that after the original left Albert Varley’s collection and before it entered Aspland’s it passed through the hands of J. W. Lowry.
#707, “Achilles” (untraced since 1942). Butlin quotes descriptions of this drawing written by Rossetti and Graham Robertson. Ruthven Todd has also described the drawing. He notes “a faint pencil circle, perhaps intended to represent a coin” lower right on the sheet.78↤ 78 Todd’s typescript catalogue of Robertson’s collection, p. 54 (see n. 3); repeated in Todd’s typescript catalogue of Blake’s drawings and paintings, p. 392 of the Library of Congress version.
#722, “Canute, Replica (?)” (Huntington Library). Butlin’s provenance information stops with Parsons in March 1918. According to their records, Sessler’s acquired the drawing from Parsons in December 1922 for $33.17 and sold it to “Lentz” in the same month for $75.
#729, “Richard Coeur de Lion” (Joseph Holland Collection). A few additional details on provenance from Sessler’s records: purchased for Moncure Biddle by Sessler’s in the 1938 auction recorded by Butlin. Taken back by Sessler’s on consignment in February 1957 at $250 and sold to Holland in March 1957.
#748, “Old Parr When Young” (Huntington Library). Butlin’s provenance information lacks the acquisition of the drawing by Sessler’s (according to their records) in June 1920 for $150 from Parsons. Sessler’s sold it to Huntington in September 1923 as part of a lot costing $2,500.
#750, “The Ghost of a Flea” (Tate Gallery). The reference should be to Plate 966, not “960.”
XXVI. Late Drawings and Water Colors, c. 1820-1827
#769, “Twenty Drawings for Thornton’s Virgil” (dispersed). Butlin notes that #769.2, “Thenot and Colinet Converse Seated Beneath Two Trees,” was “recut (repr. Athenaeum 21 January 1843, p. 165, and Keynes 1971, pl. 35) but Blake’s original engraving retained” in Thornton’s Virgil of 1821. This implication that the recut version printed (not “repr.”) in the Athenaeum was executed before the 1821 printing of Blake’s cuts follows Gilchrist’s Life of Blake, 1863, I, 274: “One of the designs engraved by Blake was re-cut among the engravers”—apparently meaning the engravers who made three other cuts after Blake, printed in 1821. The earliest record of the journeyman recut of #769.2 is its publication in the 1843 Athenaeum, where it is simply stated that “side by side [with Blake’s cut] we have printed a copy of an engraver’s improved version of the same subject.”79↤ 79 Unsigned review by Henry Cole of an edition of Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, illustrated by William Mulready, in The Athenaeum, no. 795 (21 January 1843), 65. Thus it is likely that the recut was made specifically for the sake of the comparison made in the periodical. This possibility is increased by the fact that the recut is the reverse of Blake’s cut and the drawing for it, whereas the three journeymen cuts in the 1821 Virgil are in the same direction as Blake’s drawings. There would have been no reason for these engravers to reverse just one cut; but a later copyist, working from Blake’s cut rather than the drawing, would have found it easier to copy the design directly on a wood block, thereby reversing it in impressions. At the very least, there is no evidence supporting Gilchrist’s story about an 1821 recut of #769.2.
#769.3, “Colinet and Thenot, with Shepherd’s Crooks, Leaning Against Trees.” This drawing for the Virgil wood engravings, listed by Butlin as untraced, was acquired in the fall of 1980 by Arthur E. Vershbow of Boston from Goodspeed’s Book Shop.
#769.4, “Unused Design: Colinet and Thenot Stand Together Conversing, Their Sheep Behind” (Pierpont Morgan Library). In the caption to Plate 1001, the reference should be to this catalogue entry, not “767.4.”
#774, “Moses Placed in the Ark of the Bulrushes” (Huntington Library). Butlin, in his provenance information, gives no owner between Robson in 1918 and Huntington. According to their records, begin page 58 | ↑ back to top
#785, “Timon” (Beinecke Library, Yale). Butlin, in his provenance information, lists this drawing in a Sotheby’s sale in 1893, followed by its acquisition by “Heath,” followed by its sale through Quaritch to Marsden J. Perry in “1890.” This last, contradictory date is apparently an error. The drawing was formerly bound, as Butlin notes, in copy Q of Songs of Innocence. According to John Sampson, Perry purchased this volume “in 1900 from Quaritch.”80↤ 80 The Poetical Works of William Blake, ed. Sampson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), p. 73. Bentley, Blake Books, p. 410, cites Sampson for this part of the book’s history. If this is correct, and if Butlin is correct in placing #785 in an 1893 auction already bound in the book, then Perry did not acquire the drawing until 1900.begin page 59 | ↑ back to top
#790 recto, “Two Figures Confront Each Other Over a Body” (British Museum). Butlin reports various speculations about the subject of this sketch (illus.[e] 45) but he does not note its association with the design beneath the text on Jerusalem plate 69. In this relief etching, two women dance before a bound male. One woman holds a knife and both have objects tied to their forearms and ankles. These decorations have been identified by Erdman as scalps and flayed hands.81↤ 81 The Illuminated Blake, annotated by David V. Erdman (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974), p. 348. This pencil sketch seems to represent a similar orgy of sacrifice involving two women and a fallen, tortured, or slain male. The central figure holds a knife and has her limbs decorated exactly as in the Jerusalem design. On this same woman’s breast, and perhaps hanging from her neck, is an object that looks rather like the flayed face held by the woman on the left in Jerusalem plate 69. These clear associations withbegin page 60 | ↑ back to top the illuminated book suggest a date somewhat earlier than Butlin’s “c. 1820-5(?)” and contemporary with other drawings for Jerusalem that he groups together in section XVIII, dated c. 1804-1820. On the verso of #790 is a slight sketch of a naked and apparently airborne man basically similar to the figure right of the first eight lines of text on plate 19 of Jerusalem and close to a mirror image of the figure in the upper right margin of plate 83.
#792-796, a group of five compositions inscribed “The Three Tabernacles/The Lamb of God,” “The Church Yard,” “Death,” “Mirth,” and “Hope” (all Keynes Collection; reproduced here, illus. 46-50). W. Graham Robertson, who once owned these five sketches, was the first to suggest that “they seem to form a series.”82↤ 82 Volume II, p. 152, of Robertson’s manuscript catalogue of his collection. See The Blake Collection of Robertson, ed. Preston, p. 217. All are on the same size paper and bear title inscriptions in similar calligraphy. Another member of the group may be #797, inscribed “Affection & Love” (Beinecke Library, Yale University). The sheet bearing this pencil sketch is about 3.7 cm. shorter than the others, but the design and inscription are compatible with them.
This group has yet to receive any interpretive analysis. It constitutes an interesting attempt to compose an emblematic series rather like the Gates of Paradise of 1793. It also shows, at least in the “Church Yard” composition and use of airborne figures, the influence of Blake’s work on the Grave illustrations out of which he also developed a group of drawings described earlier, #598-601. “Mirth” recalls Blake’s portrayal of the personification of Mirth in Milton’s L’Allegro, drawn and subsequently engraved c. 1816-1820. Perhaps Blake began these preliminary sketches for a new series of emblems but abandoned them in favor of revising his 1793 Gates into For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, usually dated c. 1818 but perhaps begun a few years later. Like that revised series of etching/engravings, this group of drawings recognizes the truths of this life (“Death”), but it also gives us hope for salvation and transcendence through both Christ (“The Lamb of God”) and good works (“Affection & Love”).
#796, “Hope” (Keynes Collection; illus. 50). The reference should be to Plate 1042, not “1041.”
#797, “Affection and Love” (Beinecke Library, Yale University). The reference should be to Plate 1041, not “1042.”
#798, “The Crucifixion” (Tate Gallery). Butlin notes the “nervous line” in this pencil sketch of c. 1825-1827. Do we see here the effects of Blake’s growing illness and the “shivering fit[s]”83↤ 83 See Blake’s letters to Linnell of 1825, 31 March 1826, and 19 May 1826 (Letters of Blake, ed. Keynes, pp. 156, 159-60). it caused? We also see evidence of an unsteady hand in #800 (“‘Return Alpheus’ from Milton’s ‘Lycidas’”), #801 (“Lady Torrens and Family, after John Linnell”), and #827 (the Book of Enoch illustrations).
#802A, “A Vision of Hercules, Drawing in a Sketchbook” (untraced since 1920). In the 1920 auction catalogue in which this sketchbook appeared, it is stated that the sketchbook also contained an extract from Cennino Cennini’s Treatise on Painting in Blake’s hand. This offers additional evidence for Blake’s ownership of, or at least familiarity with, Cennini’s book. Butlin suggests that #802A may have originally been part of the same notebook as #802, “Drawings from a Sketchbook” (Keynes Collection). These include two studies for George Richmond’s “Abel” which, as Anne Gilchrist noted, was executed as a “gesso water colour, worked in Blake’s favourite ‘fresco’ medium.”84↤ 84 Anne Gilchrist her Life and Writings, ed. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887), p. 261. Blake took a particular interest in Cennini’s formulae for a glue-based medium;85↤ 85 See Linnell’s letter to Anne Gilchrist of 10 December 1862 (Bentley, Blake Records, p. 684) and W. M. Rossetti in Gilchrist, Life of Blake, 1863, I, 369. Cennini’s formulae are briefly described by Bo Ossian Lindberg, Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 14 (Winter 1980-81), 173 n. 41. he may have both quoted the appropriate section on this “fresco” medium (as he called his own glue-based paint) and “made a careful correction-drawing”86↤ 86 Anne Gilchrist her Life and Writings, p. 261. of Richmond’s picture in the same sketchbook. Both were, in effect, directions to the young artist.
XXVII. Late Paintings in Tempera, c. 1821-1826
This group of nine final tempera (or, more accurately, “distemper”) paintings demonstrates Blake’s mastery of a most delicate and intractable medium. He learned to apply the (altered?) medium less thickly, and perhaps with better preparation of the canvas, than in his earlier examples. Perhaps Blake’s reading of Guiseppe Tambroni’s 1821 edition of Cennini’s Trattato della Pittura (see note 85) caused him to alter his practice slightly. Whatever the exact cause, the late temperas have survived in far better condition than the earlier attempts. They are also lighter in tone, as though Blake had slowly exorcised the Venetian and Flemish demons of darkness and decay infecting his painting techniques. Given his insistence on the unity of conception and execution, he must have felt that these technical spectres were also disrupting his thoughts. When considered from this perspective, we can see that Blake’s ideas about Rubens, Rembrandt, and Correggio were not only critical statements on historical personages but also personifications of his own difficulties as an artist. #805 and 806, “Count Ugolino and His Sons in Prison” and “The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve,” show the same stipple-like brushstrokes characterizing Blake’s portrait miniatures and some of his most beautiful water colors. By combining his experiences in several media, Blake finally learned how to exploit the intrinsic properties of an opaque, glue-based medium rather than being an unconscious slave to the impasto techniques of oil painting.
XXVIII. Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1824-1827
Butlin carefully records the cryptic series of numbers on the versos of the Dante designs, also appearing on one of the Enoch drawings (#827.3). He also describes, and in the more important cases reproduces, some sketches for the Dante designs not previously noticed. Twenty-three such sketches appear on the versos of the large drawings.
In his letter of 25 April 1827 to Linnell, Blake mentioned that, “as to Ugolino, &c, I never supposed that I should sell them; my Wife alone is answerable for their having Existed in any finish’d State.”87↤ 87 Letters of Blake, ed. Keynes, p. 170. Just what was Mrs. Blake’s direct or begin page 61 | ↑ back to top indirect contribution to the Ugolino tempera (#805) or to the Dante water colors?
#812.18 verso, “Sketch for ‘The Six-Footed Serpent Attacking Agnolo Brunelleschi’” (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard). The plate reference is to 1055, but in fact this verso sketch is not reproduced. Plate 1055 pictures #812.51 verso.
#812.39 verso, “Slight Sketch for ‘Cacus’” (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). The reference should be to Plate 1054, not “1053.”
812.43 verso, “Sketch of Rocks” (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard). The reference should be to Plate 1053, not “1054.”
#814 recto and verso, “Sketch for ‘Minos’” and “Copy of Michelangelo’s ‘Adam’” (George Hooper Collection). Neither of the sketches looks like Blake’s work, particularly because of their soft chalk lines and shading. The recto follows #812.9, “Minos” among the Dante illustrations, very closely. Perhaps Linnell, who made a number of copies of Blake’s designs, or a member of his family copied Blake’s drawing. Linnell of course owned the Dante illustrations and #814 probably came from his collection. The careful copy of Michelangelo’s Adam on the verso may relate to Linnell’s graphic reproductions of the Sistine frescoes. He engraved facsimiles of six old engravings of single figures by Michelangelo in 1828 and reproduced the full “Creation of Adam” panel as a mezzotint dated February 1833. I doubt both Butlin’s attribution of these recto-verso drawings to Blake and his comment that the head of Adam “in the copy bears a remarkable likeness to Blake himself.”
XXIX. Last Works: Illustrations to the Book of Enoch, Genesis and The Pilgrim’s Progress, c. 1824-1827
All the works gathered in this section were very probably left unfinished at Blake’s death. The Bunyan illustrations have some water colors added by another hand; Butlin’s descriptions of these additions and their attribution to someone other than Blake (Mrs. Blake? Tatham?) are completely convincing even when checked against color reproductions that tend to mask differences in brush work and textures. Anyone interpreting the Bunyan series must surely take into account their joint authorship.
Even if one discounts the poor coloring on some of the Pilgrim’s Progress designs, they still show a considerable falling off in quality when compared to other late works, particularly the Job plates and the Dante water colors. For example, #829.6, “Christian Drawn Out of the Slough by Help,” is a complete botch. The attempt at perspective in the background road is pathetic and the figure of Christian is completely unconvincing. A few designs, however, show Blake still in command of his art.
#829.20, “Christian with the Shield of Faith, Taking Leave of His Companions,” was detached from the group early on and escaped the attentions of the blundering colorist. It shows what Blake may have wanted for the whole series, although it is hard to see how some of the designs could ever be improved sufficiently. We may still appreciate these water colors as a pictorial commentary on Bunyan’s text, but in purely pictorial terms they are Blake’s least successful illustrative series.
XXX. Miscellaneous Untraced Works
This group of forty-nine items, plus the untraced but at least tentatively datable works listed throughout the catalogue, form a daunting collection of losses and mysteries. A particularly intriguing item is #846, described by Palmer in 1855 as “a finished picture from the Metamorphoses, after Giulio Romano.” As Butlin notes, this might be #803, “The Sea of Time and Space” (National Trust, Arlington Court). But I can find nothing in Ovid that #803 could illustrate.
#849, “Egypt” (untraced since 1863). Described by Rossetti (Gilchrist, Life of Blake, 1863, II, 252) as “a naked, standing male figure.” Might this work have some connection with Blake’s engraving after Fuseli, “Fertilization of Egypt,” published in Erasmus Darwin’s The Botanic Garden in 1791? Blake’s finished wash drawing of the design (#173) is not otherwise listed by Rossetti. His description of #849 generally fits this back view of Anubis straddling the Nile.
#868, “A Nude Woman” (untraced since 1910). Butlin traces this drawing to the collection of Thomas Butts. When sold at Sotheby’s, 22 March 1910, the drawing was described as “a small water-colour” and grouped in lot 447 with impressions of plates engraved by Butts, father and son. I suspect that this drawing is also by Butts. It may be either the “Venus Anadyomene” wash drawing on a sheet 11.5 × 7.6 cm. now at McGill University, Montreal; or the untraced variant of the same figure reproduced in The Connoisseur, 19 (September-December, 1907), 96. The latter has been described by Bentley as an engraving,88↤ 88 Blake Records, p. 176. The McGill Drawing has been attributed to Butts, with the assumption that it is a preliminary for the “engraving” described by Bentley, in Christopher Heppner, “Notes on Some Items in the Blake Collection at McGill with a Few Speculations Around William Roscoe,” Blake Newsletter, 10 (1977), 101. but its inscription (“Venus Anadyomene Inv. et pinx T Butts 1807”) and the quality of line and shading visible in the reproduction suggest that it is another water color drawing.
XXXI. Drawings Attributed to Robert Blake, 1767-1787
R1, “Robert Blake’s Sketchbook” (Huntington Library). Butlin cites Bindman’s justifiable doubts about Robert’s authorship of these sketches, much less William’s (as has sometimes been claimed). Among Robert’s other drawings, only the heads on R11 verso, “Academy Studies of Profile and Part-Profile Heads” (British Museum) look anything like the work in this sketchbook.
R4, “A Druid Grove” (Keynes Collection). The plate reference should be to 176, not “179.”begin page 62 | ↑ back to top
XXXII. Works Attributed to Catherine Blake, 1762-1831
The first two entries in this section, “Agnes” and “Head ‘Taken from Something She Saw in the Fire,’” show a Blake-like talent for haunting images. The originals, both in Keynes’ collection, are far more impressive than any reproductions yet published.
In his Introduction, p. xii, Butlin expresses the hope that future discoveries of drawings and paintings by Blake will “be published Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly; long may it thrive!” Let me offer a final celebration of Butlin’s masterful catalogue by accepting that open invitation.
A second-state impression of Blake’s white-line metal cut, “The Man Sweeping the Interpreter’s Parlour,” on a sheet of unwatermarked wove paper 12.2 × 19 cm., was sold anonymously at Christie’s, 3 December 1980, lot 161. This print, now in my collection, bears on its verso a pencil sketch of a standing figure (illus. 51), no doubt executed by Blake. The paper is trimmed into the figure at the top, suggesting that the drawing was made when the sheet was somewhat larger. Martin Butlin has suggested in correspondence that the style dates the drawing to the 1790s. The modeling on the body is similar to figures in The Four Zoas manuscript, particularly the giant nude on page 66. If this dating is correct, then the drawing was executed before the print was pulled because the second state of “The Man Sweeping” was almost certainly executed in the 1820s. The subject may be Samson pulling down the pillars of the temple (Judges 16:25-30). Note the slit-like eyes, perhaps indicating Samson’s blindness, and the disappearance of his arms behind what I take to be breaking pillars. The same subject is pictured in Blake’s final Night Thoughts water color. Although Samson’s posture is very different, the columns break in the middle much as they do in this rough little sketch.
Martin Butlin—long may he thrive!