Art Fund despair as rare collection of Blake watercolours is broken up

  • 9 May 2006

Auctioned in single lots in New York last Tuesday, 11 items went for a total of £3.3m pounds - far less than the auction estimates, and less than the £5m which the dealer had paid for them on behalf of an unnamed investor in 2002. 8 items remain unsold.

The rare collection of 19 William Blake illustrations to ‘Blair’s Grave’ were discovered in a Glasgow bookshop in 2001. They were first offered to Tate for £4.2m, but Tate were gazumped by London art dealer Libby Howie. The works were then export-stopped by the Export Reviewing Committee to give a UK public collection a chance to acquire them, but at a price of £8.8 million, which Tate was unable to raise.

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said: “The breakup of this collection is tragic – it highlights yet again the need for watertight export controls and an adequate fund of last resort for museums and galleries to call upon when they need it, rather than being left despairing after another loss.”

The Louvre in Paris acquired ‘Death of the Strong Wicked Man’ considered to be the finest watercolour in the collection; of the other sales, two went to British private collectors, one each to American and German collectors, two to other collectors, one to a San Francisco antiquarian bookseller and two to anonymous buyers.

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