The Blake Collection of W. Graham Robertson


The Notes by Graham Robertson in this volume relate to his own famous collection of pictures and drawings by William Blake (1757-1827).

W. Graham Robertson, R.B.A., R.O.I., R.P. (1866-1948) died on the 4th September 1948. He was a professional painter, but he was also a many- sided figure in the world of art and literature. He illustrated many books, by himself and other authors, and he had much to do with the theatre, as dramatist, designer and producer. Being himself both poet and painter, with a quick eye for design, and a sense of humour disguising a deep but unconventional feeling for the spiritual life, he was naturally akin to Blake, and in profound sympathy with him from a time sixty years after his death when Blake was not so widely known and appreciated as he is today.

The great revival of Blake around his 1927 centenary was largely due to the pioneering work of Graham Robertson, whose fervent enthusiasm was always tempered with a wise discretion, shown in critical judgment and understatement all the more effective for its reserve in the long run. He mentioned in his charming book of reminiscences, Time Was, how in his sixteenth or seventeenth year he came across Gilchrist Life of William Blake in a Southampton bookshop and was at once fascinated with the poet-painter's all- daring imagination and marvellous powers of design. He then became aware that, within the limits of his pocket money, it was still possible to pick up specimens of Blake's scarcely yet appreciated work, and before his twentieth birthday he had bought forty pencil drawings. His first Blake painting was the famous Ghost of a Flea, which he purchased, despite severe qualms of conscience at the vast outlay, for twelve pounds.

Later, much of the work done by Blake for his chief patron, Butts, found its way gradually into Graham Robertson's ownership. Butts' grandson, who lived at Parkstone near Bournemouth, had little understanding of Blake but felt somehow the sacredness of these possessions, which were more like spiritual treasure than material wealth and must not lightly be sold, as they were a kind of justification of his existence and had even become the main claim to fame of the historic Butts family. He must have recognised, however, the rightness of their going to the entirely sympathetic home of Graham Robertson, who was not in the least like a rich man, but simply an artist, after Blake's own heart.

Some further information about the Butts connection may suitably be added here. After the Doctor, Sir William Butts, in Shakespeare Henry VIII (painted more than once by Holbein), and his son Edmund Butts (1519-1548) . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • London
Publication year:
  • 1952


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