1826. London: [plates dated] 1825 (and plate 1 dated 1828) [but published 1826].
Folio, 380 x 272 mm., engraved title and 21 engravings on thick white wove paper by William Blake, plates 5, 14, 18 and 20 with visible watermarks J WHATMAN / 1825' or 'J WHATMAN / TURKEY MILL / 1825'; sheet size: 376 x 268 mm (no. 20 slightly shorter but with deckle edge at foot). Mid-nineteenth century Russian calf-backed glazed green and black flexible marbled paper boards, a little scuffed along the edges. Printed white label to rear pastedown of bookseller Vasilii Ivanovich Klochkov (1861 - 1915) (see below); bookplate of Henri Focillon (1881 - 1943) to front pastedown( see also below).
§ First edition, limited to 100 sets on wove paper with the word ‘Proof’ (partially) removed (see below): 150 sets on India paper and 65 on “French” paper were also issued at the same time, the latter two having the word “Proof” on every plate except the title. A very interesting set as on all the plates except the title-page the word “Proof” which was intended to be omitted from this suite is clearly visible either faintly, in part, or almost in whole. Opinions vary but it seems likely that the word was blocked out with putty, which initially didn’t work very well though other copies have no sign of the word. The finished plates (which were reprinted in 1874) have the word burnished off the plate completely.
The engravings for the Book of Job were commissioned formally by John Linnell in an agreement of March 25, 1823. Despite a publication date of March 8, 1825 (the plates bear this date), they probably did not appear until early 1826 (the title label states 'March, 1826') and were sold sporadically by Linnell and his heirs (he died in 1882) over the course of the next century. Indeed, the family sold 68 sets of India proof copies at Christie's in 1918. Always fascinated by the Book of Job, Blake's engravings were based on a series of watercolors executed between 1805 and 1806 for his patron Thomas Butts concerning a debate between Satan and God concerning Job's piety. The plates are noteworthy as being the last complete series of engravings completed before Blake's death in 1827. The first edition was issued in 3 versions: 150 copies on laid India with the word 'Proof', 65 copies on French paper with 'Proof', and 100 on Whatman paper with the word 'Proof’ erased as here.
'It was produced while Blake was still working on Jerusalem, his most obscure book; yet the Illustrations are Blake's most lucid; and they are the Supreme example of his reading the Bible in its Spiritual Sense.' (S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary, pg. 217).
'This [Illustrations for the Book of Job] was the last work he completed, upon the merits of which he received the highest congratulations from the following Royal Academicians: Sir Thomas Lawrence ... and many other artists of eminence.' (John Thomas Smith, Nollekens and His Times, 1828, reported in Blake Records, pg. 617).
'Are there any greater illustrations to be found? They are Blake's most ambitious, most unchallengeable, series. His inspiration was never richer, and his execution never more consistently maintained.' (Osbert Burdett, William Blake, 1926).
Henri Focillon (1881 - 1943) was a highly esteemed French art historian, and poet and lecturer, who became director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon in 1913 where he served until 1924. He succeeded Emile Mâle at the Sorbonne, becoming Professor of Aesthetics in 1938 before his election as Professor to the Collège de France in 1938. His regular travels to the United States - he began to teach at Yale in 1932 - saw him marooned there at the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 and with the fall of France he remained there in exile. He spent the early years of the war travelling the US assessing support for France and was a supporter of de Gaulle and the Free French. Focillon, who wrote the first catalogue of the engraved work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, died in New Haven in 1943. As an expert and connoisseur in the field - among many others - of engraving, it seems fitting that he owned this superb example of the final engraved work completed by William Blake.
It must also be noted that prior to entering the collection of Focillon, this copy of the 'Illustrations of the Book of Job' had been in Russia. The discreet printed label to the rear pastedown adjacent to the spine is that of the pre-eminent St. Petersburg bookseller Vasilii Ivanovich Klochkov (1861 - 1915) whose bookshop was at Liteinyi Prospect 55. Although it now seems difficult, if not impossible, to trace a link between Klochkov and Focillon, it is worth noting that Focillon's son-in-law, Jurgis Baltrusaitis (1903 - 1988), was the son of a Lithuanian father (a Symbolist poet of the same name) and a Russian mother (a descendant of icon painters at the Imperial court) who became an art historian after studying with Focillon. Transmission from Baltrusaitis or his parents to Focillon seems the likeliest route although other emigrés may have been the conduit and Focillon's father Victor-Louis was himself a printmaker and a profound influence on his son's thought regarding prints. All such conjectures are speculative, however, it is clear, both from Klochkov's label and the Russian binding, that this copy of 'Illustrations of the Book of Job', with its particularly fine impressions, found itself in Russia prior to the revolution before travelling to France and entering Focillon's collection.
The full list of the plates with titles is as follows:
(1) Job and his Family.
(2) Satan before the Throne of God.
(3) The Destruction of Job's Sons.
(4) The Messengers tell Job of his Misfortunes.
(5) Satan going forth from the Presence of the Lord.
(6) Satan smiting Job with Boils.
(7) Job's Comforters.
(8) Job's Despair.
(9) The Vision of Eliphaz.
(10) Job rebuked by his Friends.
(11) Job's Evil Dreams.
(12) The Wrath of Elihu.
(13) The Lord answering Job out of the Whirlwind.
(14) The Creation.
(15) Behemoth and Leviathan.
(16) The Fall of Satan.
(17) The Vision of God.
(18) Job's Sacrifice.
(19) Job accepting Charity.
(20) Job and his Daughters.
(21) Job and his Wife restored to Prosperity. Item #124920