• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7644

    Old Master Prints

    2 December 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 61

    William Blake (1757-1827)

    Enoch (Binyon 136; Bindman 413; Essick XV 1D.)

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    William Blake (1757-1827)
    Enoch (Binyon 136; Bindman 413; Essick XV 1D.)
    lithograph printed in relief, 1806/07, on brown wove paper, one of four known impressions of the artist's only lithograph, a very good, strong and even impression, with narrow margins, the upper left corner torn and very skilfully re-attached, laid down on a backing sheet at the upper corners, with associated pale paper discolouration, a tiny nick at the lower sheet edge, otherwise in very good condition, framed
    L. 216 x 309 mm., S. 224 x 320 mm.


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    Enoch is one of the many puzzles, both technical and allegorical, which Blake unwittingly set for students of his work throughout his long life. In the history of printmaking, the early 19th century is notable for the first steps taken in the development and application of lithography. As the present work is Blake's first and only known lithograph, and dates from the time when the technique was first being introduced to England by its inventor Alois Senefelder and his licensees, there has inevitably been much speculation as to how and from whom Blake acquired his know-how. A related question is his omission from Specimens of Polyautography, the first survey of lithography in England, published in 1803. Robert Essick in his book The Separate Plates of William Blake (Princeton University Press, 1983) argues convincingly that at the time Blake was little known, and therefore unlikely to have been invited to participate, but that this would not have precluded direct contact with those whose business it was to promulgate the new technology.

    Senefelder patented the technique in London under the name polyautography in 1800, selling the licence to Philipp André (who published Specimens), who then sold it to Georg Jacob Vollweiler in 1805. To drum-up interest Vollweiler issued circulars inviting amateurs to try their hand at the new art, offering instructions and materials, with the all-important stones on loan at a moderate price. It is not unreasonable to argue that Blake, never afraid to embrace new technology, took advantage of the offer. Another clue is that the highly unusual chocolate-brown paper - on which this and one of the other three recorded impressions is printed - is unknown anywhere else in Blake's work, yet is found in a series of lithographs Vollweiler published in 1807.
    In characteristically contrary fashion however, Blake would not, or could not, follow the new formula to the letter. In a highly unusual and essentially unique deviation he employed elements of his relief etching method, etching away parts of the lithographic stone, leaving the design standing proud of the surface, in the manner of a woodcut. Whereas other printmakers, even the very brightest, from Rembrandt to Picasso, have been content to innovate only after thoroughly assimilating a technique, here, as elsewhere, Blake appears to have stepped off the common path at the earliest possible opportunity.

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    Provenance

    P. D. Colnaghi & Co., London
    Raymond Lister, Cambridgeshire