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A Sketch by Robert Blake Revealed

Robert N. Essick, Jenijoy La Belle

William Blake instructed his beloved youngest brother, Robert (1762–87), in drawing and engraving in the early and mid-1780s. According to Gilchrist, who had “come across” a few of Robert’s “tentative essays” as a draughtsman, “some are in pencil, some in pen and ink …. They unmistakably show the beginner—not to say the child—in art; are naïf and archaic-looking; rude, faltering, often puerile or absurd in drawing; but are characterized by Blake-like feeling and intention, having in short a strong family likeness to his brother’s work” (1: 57). Robert’s extant drawings are listed, and most are reproduced, in Martin Butlin’s catalogue of William Blake’s paintings and drawings. These include Blake’s Notebook, first used by Robert and containing six drawings attributable to him, Robert’s sketchbook of sixty pages, and nine separate leaves of drawings and sketches. Since the publication of Butlin’s catalogue in 1981, one further work has come to light, a pencil sketch of a deathbed scene on the verso of An Invocation (?). To this modest inventory we can now add one further sketch.

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