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Harpers and Other Drawings: The Case for a Unified Composition


Martin Butlin

The recto of the newly discovered drawing from the album of drawings descending from Charles Augustus Tulk, now in the possession of the London art dealer Lowell Libson, has received two contradictory descriptions. Robert N. Essick, in his “Blake in the Marketplace, 2012,” Blake 46.4 (spring 2013): illus. 9, sees it as a “central drawing of a man and woman playing harps and perhaps singing” together with “several other sketches, apparently unrelated to the central drawing.” The anonymous entry in Libson’s catalogue British Paintings and Works on Paper, 2013, p. 50, illus., treats it as a single composition, an early stage in the evolution of the various series of watercolors, drawings, and engravings dealing with the biblical story of Job. This is distinct from the drawings on the reverse of the paper, which in spite of the very basic landscape element linking the figures across the bottom and hints of clouds linking some of the figures above, are to all intents and purposes studies of individual figures or groups of figures, most of which later reappear in America or Europe; both recto and verso are conveniently reproduced facing each other in Libson’s catalogue. My first reaction on seeing the drawing, which I have done on a number of occasions, was that the recto is a single composition and one that certainly suggests associations with the book of Job. Further study of the fine illustrations in Libson’s catalogue has confirmed me in my belief that the work is a single composition, though the question of its subject is more problematic.


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