Blake turns in his Grave
A normality that will reassert itself with a bang and a buck, or rather the bang of one hammer and many million bucks, at Sotheby’s auction house. in the first days of May.
A set of William Blake watercolors (created to illustrate a poem by Robert Blair, but finally never used by the publisher) found in a Glasgow bookshop five years ago will go under the hammer. The publisher’s widow sold them in 1836 for the total price of £1.25. After their rediscovery in 2001, the sequence of illustrations became subject to a government export bar while the Tate scrambled to raise the £8.8m required to purchase them. As the gallery was unable to find the funds, Sotheby’s in New York announced that they would sell the paintings individually on May 2. They are expected to reach up to $17.5m (£10m) in total.
Worse even than the obscene amount of money involved is the breakup of the series itself. The Guardian quotes Martin Butlin, “a prominent Blake scholar involved in identifying the works,” as saying that “selling them individually at auction was ‘absolutely philistine’….The seller has no regard for the integrity of works of art, only for money… As a group they tell a story.”