GREATEST BLAKE DISCOVERY IN 100 YEARS LOST WATERCOLORS TO BE SOLD BY SOTHEBY’S IN NEW YORK MOST IMPORTANT OFFERING OF WORKS BY THE ARTIST EVER TO APPEAR AT AUCTION ESTIMATED TO BRING $12/17.5 MILLION ON MAY 2, 2006
News-Antique.com - Nov 30,-0001 - New York, NY -- On May 2, 2006 Sotheby’s will offer an unprecedented collection of watercolors by William Blake that had been lost to scholars since 1836. The 19 illustrations for an 18th century poem by Robert Blair, entitled The Grave, were executed in 1805. Twelve were used as the basis for an illustrated edition of the poem, published in 1808, which was partly responsible for Blake’s fame as an artist in the 19th century. The watercolors were exhibited by the publisher and then disappeared completely in 1836, only to be rediscovered in a Glasgow bookshop in 2001. Following their discovery, a legal battle to establish ownership ensued and was settled out of court before the folio was sold to a private collector. Heralded by scholars as arguably the most important Blake discovery in more than a century, the watercolors will be sold individually, and are estimated to bring $12/17.5 million in total. Prior to their exhibition and sale in New York, the watercolors will be on view at Sotheby’s offices in London, Paris, Chicago and Los Angeles (see page 4 for details).
George Wachter, Vice Chairman and Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department Worldwide, said, “It is an honor for Sotheby’s to handle these exceptional works of art. The combination of their inherent beauty and pristine condition is a boon to collectors and institutions alike.” (Pictured: Death’s Door, est. $1/1.5 million)
Dr. Nancy Bialler, Senior Vice President in Sotheby’s Old Master Drawings Department, said, “William Blake, an accomplished poet and prodigiously talented draughtsman, is an artist who transcends collecting categories. The present drawings, rediscovered after 165 years, show him at the height of his powers, engaged with subjects of universal importance and broad appeal.”
The drawings in pen and ink over traces of pencil are delicately water colored in a subtle range of hues. They have remained on their original mounts and have survived undisturbed in nearly perfect condition. The watercolors demonstrate not only the most important hallmarks of Blake’s work, but also show this artist of genius taking on some of the weightiest subjects possible such as Death’s Door, The Day of Judgment, Death of the Strong Wicked Man and The Soul Hovering over the Body Reluctantly Parting with Life. While twelve of Blake’s drawings were engraved, seven were hitherto unknown and demonstrate how Blake used the text of a popular classic as a starting point for his own meditations on timeless themes. Their remarkable reappearance has been referred to by a noted expert on the artist, as, “arguably the most important [discovery] since Blake began to be appreciated in the second half of the nineteenth century.” (Pictured right: Whilst, surfeited upon thy Damask Cheek, the high-fed Worm in lazy Volumes roll’d, riots unscr’d, est. $1/1.5 million)
In October 1805, publisher Robert H. Cromek commissioned William Blake to prepare forty drawings illustrating Robert Blair's The Grave, an enormously popular "Graveyard" school poem first published in 1743. Originally Blake was to provide 40 drawings, from which 20 would