Illustrations of the Book of Job. William Blake.

Illustrations of the Book of Job.

1825. London: [plates dated] 1825 [but published 1826].

Folio, engraved title and 21 plates on India paper mounted on handmade paper. Each plate separately matted, a brilliant set, with the original printed label preserved.

§ First edition, limited to 150 proof sets (65 sets were also printed on French paper, and 100 sets on drawing paper with the word ‘proof’ removed). This is one of finest sets of the proofs I have ever seen, and far outshines the other two original printings and the later re-issue. The India paper set is the best printing of these famous plates which comprise Blake’s major single achievement as a printmaker after the illuminated books.

“Blake’s twenty-two engraved Illustrations of the Book of Job are the culmination of his long pictorial engagement with that biblical subject. His first efforts were a small group of wash drawings of the mid-1780s showing Job in his misery with his wife and three friends…This may have stimulated Blake’s chief patron, Thomas Butts, to commission a tempera painting, Job and His Daughters (Butlin 394) c. 1799-1800 and, about six years later, a series of nineteen watercolors illustrating the story of Job (Butlin 550, the so-called “Butts Set”). In 1821, Blake and his new patron John Linnell borrowed the watercolors from Butts. Linnell traced the series and Blake colored them (Butlin 551, the so-called “Linnell Set”). Blake also added two more compositions to this later group and added versions of these same compositions to the earlier group, so that both sets now have twenty-one designs.

“The Linnell set led directly to the commissioning of the engravings, as set forth in a contract dated 25 March 1823. Blake first executed a series of twenty-one reduced pencil sketches of the central designs (Butlin 557). These he transferred to copperplates. Rather than using the customary “mixed method” of preliminary etching followed by engraving, Blake used pure line engraving in the Job plates. Perhaps one of his motivations was to evoke the art of the master engravers of the Renaissance whom Blake greatly admired, such as Albrecht Dürer. The Job engravings are generally considered to be Blake’s masterpiece as an intaglio printmaker.

“According to John Linnell, the border designs, unique to the engraved series, were a last-minute addition to the copperplates. Blake also added a title page, perhaps late in the production process. The title page is not numbered, but all the others are numbered, upper right in the copperplate, 1-21. The plate numbered “1” was mistakenly dated 1828 in the imprint; all the others were dated 1825. Linnell’s account books show that the engravings were not published until March 1826.” (The Blake Archive)

“The modest size of the central panels does not prevent them from ranking with the supreme masterpieces of graphic art” (Ray, Illustrator and the Book in England #8). Item #107296

Price: $125,000.00

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