Illustrations of the Book of JobBLAKE, William
London: [John Linnell]. 1825 .
First edition, one of 65 sets on French paper, the rarest of the three forms of the original issue of the last series of illustrations that Blake fully completed. Engraved title and 21 engraved plates on unwatermarked French paper, each plate marked "Proof", interleaved with blank paper guards. Folio. 402x275mm.
Bound in later nineteenth century green half morocco, blue mottled paper, decorated bands to spine, lettered in gilt, top edge gilt. Rubbing to edges and head and foot of spine. Internally very good. The engravings are in excellent condition. Some foxing to the sheets but affecting the engravings only very slightly in a few instances. Some slight tears (of no more than one inch) where the sheets join the stubs on which they are mounted. On a blank preliminary leaf are a pencil ownership inscription of "J. Frederick Hall, 1872" (a known Blake collector) and a neat inscription "B. 1928" in blue ink. This is a beautiful set. "The modest size of the central panels does not prevent them from ranking with the supreme masterpieces of graphic art" (Ray, The Illustrator and the Book in England, 1790–1914, no. 8).
In c.1805-06 Blake had made a set of 19 watercolour drawings illustrating The Book of Job for his patron Thomas Butts. In September 1821 these were borrowed and shown to John Linnell, who, together with Blake, made copies before returning the originals to Butts. Eighteen months later a plan to engrave and publish the designs emerged. “Linnell's commissions may have been motivated in part by a desire to provide the ageing artist with a regular income ... the contract [was] signed by Linnell and Blake on 25 March 1823, to engrave the Job illustrations. The commission provided Blake an income of about £1 a week from 1823 through 1825. The task proved arduous, for Blake engraved the plates without preliminary etching, and the twenty-one designs plus an engraved title-page were not published until March 1825” (Robert N. Essick, writing in ODNB). Blake had an especial devotion to the Prophet Job, inspired in part, no doubt, by his own constant struggles against misfortune borne with Job-like patience and fortitude.
The original issue consisted of 315 sets, 150 sets of proofs on india paper mounted on thick paper, 65 sets on French paper, and 100 sets on drawing paper. Michael Philips’s reconstruction of the printing history of the book shows that the india paper proofs were printed first, ready and paid for by Linnell on 9 March 1826. The sets on French paper and English drawing paper were printed next, with the drawing paper sets further distinguished by the removal of the word “proof” from the plates. This second round of printing was completed not later than 20 May.
Bentley (Blake Books) states that the French paper shows a Whatman watermark, but he seems to be in error. In his essay “Blake's Engravings to the Book of Job: An Essay on their Graphic Form with a Catalogue of their States and Printings”, Essick states that he has "not been able to identify any set as definitely printed on a French paper but this description probably refers to impressions with the 'Proof' inscription (State A) printed directly on an ivory-coloured wove paper without watermark". Essick reasons that it is unlikely that such a clearly English paper used for the drawing paper impressions of state B, would be referred to as "French" in Linnell's account books.
A posthumous edition of 100 copies was printed from the original plates in 1874, easily distinguishable from the present issue as it was printed on india paper without the word “proof”.
Provenance: On a binder’s blank is the pencil ownership inscription of the early Blake collector J. Frederick Hall (his copy of The Book of Thel, with his ownership inscription dated 1873, is now in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library), dated 1872, perhaps contemporaneous with the binding, and a neat inscription “B. 1928” in blue ink. The book was latterly in the family library of David Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford and 11th Earl of Balcarres (1900-1975), who served as trustee of the Tate and National Galleries, the British Museum, and the National Library of Scotland, though unmarked as such.