WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827)
WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827)


WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827)
lithograph printed in relief, 1806-07, on buff wove paper, watermark C 1806, a fine, unrecorded impression of this very rare print (Essick records four impressions only), with margins
Image 217 x 312 mm.
Sheet 226 x 321 mm.
Presumably Buxton Kenrick (1770-1832), Fishtoft Manor, Boston, Lincolnshire & London.
Dr George Cranmer Kenrick (1806-1869), Grove, Melksham, Wiltshire; presumably by descent from the above.
Wanda Jill Ferguson, née Forsyth-Forrest (1934-2021); by family descent from the above.
Acquired locally in England by the present owner in 2021 (as part of an album; see following lot).
Binyon 136; Bindman 413; Essick XV
Post lot text
This work will be published in the Spring 2022 issue of Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly.

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Lot Essay

Robert Essick recorded the following four impressions of Enoch, the artist's only lithograph:
1A - Thomas Fisher (1772-1836), Rochester, Kent & London; British Museum, London (inv. no. 1874,0711.1028, on buff wove paper, pasted into an album of early English lithographs).
1B - Edward Croft-Murray (1907-1980), Chichester, West Sussex & London; Christie's, London, 12 December 2012, lot 96 (£ 205,250); Metropolitan Museum, New York (inv. no. 2013.146, on wove paper).
1C - Sir Geoffrey Keynes (1887-1982), Cambridge; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (inv. no. P.397-1985, on chocolate brown wove paper).
1D - Raymond Lister (1919–2001), Cambridge; Christie's London, 2 December 2008, lot 61 (£ 97,250, on brown paper); private collection.
The present, previously unrecorded fifth impression is one of only two still in private hands. To our knowledge, it is also the only example on watermarked paper. The watermark probably belonged to the Joseph Coles papermill in Somerset and is dated 1806, the likely year of the creation of this print.
The lithograph was previously pasted into an amateur album of prints, which can be dated to the first quarter of the 19th century. The partially disassembled volume is being offered separately in this sale (see the following lot). It includes twelve early pen lithographs from the Specimens of Polyautography and many other early English lithographs. Given the subsequent provenance of the album, it can be assumed that it was originally assembled by Buxton Kenrick (1770-1832) at Fishtoft Manor.

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 been much speculation as to how Blake acquired knowledge of this new technique.
Senefelder patented lithography in London under the name polyautography in 1800, then sold the license to Philip H. André, who sold it on to Georg Jacob Vollweiler in 1805. To elicit interest in the new technology, Vollweiler issued circulars inviting amateurs to try their hand at the new art, offering instruction and materials, with the lithographic stones on loan at a moderate price. Although it cannot be proven, it is not far-fetched to assume that Blake encountered lithography via Vollweiler at this time.
An inscription on the reverse of the impression 1B, in the hand of George Cumberland (1754-1848), Blake's lifelong supporter and friend, describes Blake's unique lithographic method:

'White Lyas - is the Block
draw with Ink composed of asphaltum dissolved in dry [?]
Linseed oil - add fine venetian Tripoli & Rotten Stone Powder.
Let it dry. when dry saturate the stone with water and
Dab it with the broad Dabber, and [deleted] coverd very thinly with
best Printers Ink and print as a block-
of Blake'

The inscription reveals Blake's idiosyncratic approach to the medium. Instead of using lithographic crayons and tusche, he employed a mixture of asphaltum, linseed oil and finely ground limestone to paint his design onto white lias, a limestone found near Bath. Blake appears to have omitted the gum arabic etch, the key chemical component of the lithographic process which fixes the image within the actual stone. This etch enhances the capacity of the areas of the stone holding the image to accept greasy ink and repel water, thereby facilitating the repeated printing of consistent impressions. Although Blake's asphaltum-based compound would have repelled water, permitting the inking of the image, it would not have had the durability of an etched matrix.
As Essick observes, it is improbable that the promoters of the new art of lithography would have sanctioned a deviation from the normal lithographic procedures on which they held the patent, and this, together with Blake's relative anonymity at the time, might explain the omission of Enoch from both issues of Specimens of Polyautography, the first surveys of lithography in England, published in 1803 and 1805, and the extreme rarity of this print.
The lithograph depicts Enoch, a patriarch of the Antediluvian period from the Book of Genesis (5:22-29), who, after 365 years during which he 'walked with God' and did not die, was translated to Heaven. Credited by early Christian and Jewish theologians with the invention of writing. In Blake's lithograph he is therefore shown holding a book inscribed with Hebrew letters. He is furthermore surrounded by his children practicing Poetry, Music and Painting, and is thus presented as the Father of the Arts in general. The figures hovering in the air are representations of Prophesy and Inspiration, while the vines laden with grapes at the sides can be undersmetaphor of creative fruitfulness.

(See: Robert N. Essick, The Separate Plates of William Blake: A Catalogue, 1983, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1983, no. XV.)

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