A wonderful find of a 'new' set of 19 Robert Blake watercolors that date from 1805 is to be split at a Sotheby's auction. Art experts aren't pleased:
The discovery was pure serendipity: nosing around in a dusty bookshop in Scotland on a spring day five years ago, a pair of British booksellers stumbled upon a weathered red leather case engraved with the words "Designs for Blair's Grave." Opening it, they found 19 Romantic yet macabre watercolors — depicting angels, sarcophagi, moonlit graveyards, arm-linked spirits — rendered in a subtle range of grays, black and pastels.
Five years, one lawsuit and an export battle later, the watercolors — illustrations created in 1805 by the poet and artist William Blake for a 1743 poem — are being heralded by scholars as the most important Blake discovery in a century.
Yet to the consternation of many experts, all 19 are headed for auction this spring at Sotheby's in New York, which plans to break up the set and sell them on May 2 for a projected $12 million to $17.5 million. Estimated prices of the watercolors, each mounted on a 13-by-10-inch backing, range from $180,000 to $260,000 for the inscribed title page to $1 million to $1.5 million for the most intricate and compelling scenes.
It's a true cultural shame, and a travesty that the Tate was unable to raise the money to buy them. I will say, however, that I am against every work of importance ending up in a museum, but I also hate to see such a seminal set broken up.