The Last Judgment was the most complex subject tackled by Blake in individual compositions, and occupied him over many years, from 1806 until the end of his life. He also wrote extensively on the subject in connection with a picture that he planned to exhibit in 1810 (see G. Keynes, Blake: Complete Writings, Oxford, 1969 edition, pp. 604-17, and D. Erdman, The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, 1970 edition, pp. 544-55); this, or another tempera painting of the subject, remained unfinished at Blake's death (Butlin, op.cit, pp. 470-1 no. 648).
Blake's first treatment of the subject was in the watercolour A Vision of the Last Judgment of 1806 (Glasgow, Pollok House; Butlin op.cit., p. 466 no. 637, illustrated pl. 868); this, with The Fall of Man of 1807 (Victoria and Albert Museum; Butlin, pp. 466-7, no. 641, illustrated pl. 869) may have been intended to 'top-and-tail' as it were Blake's series of large illustrations to Milton's Paradise Lost, mainly of 1808 (dispersed; see Butlin, pp. 383-8, nos. 536 1-12, illustrated pls. 645-56, and M. Butlin, 'The Dating and Composition of William Blake's Larger Series of Illustrations to Paradise Lost', in G. Sutherland, ed., British Art 1740-1820: Essays in Honor of Robert R. Wark, San Marino, California, 1992, pp. 146, 158-9, illustrated in colour pls. XV and XIV). The Last Judgment also appears as plate 8 of Blake's illustrations to Robert Blair's The Grave, published in 1808 (illustrated R.N. Essick and M.D. Paley, Robert Blair's The Grave illustrated by William Blake, London, 1982). Another finished watercolour of the Last Judgment was painted in 1808 on commission from the Countess of Egremont (Petworth House; Butlin, pp. 467-8 no. 642, illustrated pl. 870).
The present drawing, with its free use of pencil, seems to be the first stage in the evolution of the large finished pen and wash drawing in the Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Butlin, op.cit., 1981, pp. 469-70 no. 645, illustrated pl. 871), which was itself probably planned as a basis for the picture that Blake intended to exhibit in 1810; an intermediate stage in the evolution of this composition is the drawing in the Humanitarian Research Center, University of Texas, Austin (Butlin, p. 469 no. 644, pl. 872). At the same time the present drawing derives a number of compositional features, rather than individual figures, from the Petworth watercolour. (For details of this group of works see Butlin, op.cit., pp. 466-71.)
The two other drawings mentioned in Tatham's note on the backing of the present work must have been among the Blake Visionary Heads in his collection (see Butlin, op.cit., p. 495-531; they could be Butlin, nos. 756 and 759, which also passed to Quaritch). Tatham obtained his large collection of drawings from Blake's studio through the artist's widow, who died in Tatham's house, where she was living, on 18 October 1831; such drawings are readily identifiable from Tatham's characteristic inscriptions.