Monday, 11 January 2010

Blake's etchings rediscovered

by Kathryn Hadley

Tate Britain announced today, January 11th, its recent acquisition of eight hand-coloured etchings by William Blake (1757-1827) for Tate Collection. Following the artist's death in 1827, they were inherited by Blake’s widow Catherine, who later gave them to a gentleman named Frederick Tatham. Their ownership was then a mystery until they were discovered inside a railway timetable in a box of second-hand books purchased at a local book sale in the 1970s. The owner, who wished to remain anonymous, sold them for £441,000.

The works, which depict striking scenes of physical drama, are individual prints of some of the images that Blake reproduced from his series of illuminated books. Six of the etchings are from his major work The First Book of Urizen (1794), one is from the mythological poem The Book of Thel (1789), and one is from his revolutionary prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93).

The etchings are each finished in pen and ink and were hand-coloured by laying tempera on watercolour. They feature pencil inscriptions of numbers as well as stitch holes, which suggests that they were bound together at some point as a longer numbered series of prints. Twenty-three of these prints, reproduced from Blake’s illuminated books as separate plates, were notably brought together in a volume for the artist’s friend Ozias Humphrey, known today as Copy A of the Small Book of Designs, which is currently held at the British Museum. A further eleven prints were known to exist before the discovery of this set of eight images, one of which was already in Tate Collection.

The eight etchings are due to go on display at Tate Britain in July 2010.

- William Blake, The First Book of Urizen, Plate 11 Small Book of Designs, Copy B (1796/ c.1818)
- William Blake, The First Book of Urizen, Plate 7 Small Book of Designs, Copy B (1796/c.1818 )

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