Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Pencil on paper
  • 7 ⅞ × 6 inches · 200 × 153 mm
  • Drawn 1819


  • John Varley;
  • William Mulready; sold Christie’s, 28-30 April 1864, 1st day, lot.86, £5.5.0 bt. Kempton;
  • William Christian Selle;
  • H. Buxton Forman, son-in-law of the above;
  • William Bell Scott,a gift from the above in 1870;
  • Miss Alice Boyd, Penkill Castle (d. 1897), by gift;
  • Miss Eleanor Margaret Courtney-Boyd (1864-1946), niece of the above, by descent; 
  • Miss Evelyn Mary Courtney-Boyd, half-sister of the above, by descent;
  • M. D. E. Clayton-Stamm, acquired from the above in 1967;
  • Clayton-Stamm sale, Christie’s 15 June 1971, lot 148, 140 gns;
  • Alfred Essex, acquired at the above sale;
  • By descent to 2019.


  • Martin Butlin, The Blake-Varley Sketchbook of 1818: in the collection of M.D.E. Clayton-Stamm,  London, 1969, 2 volumes, Introduction and notes, p. 26, reproduced in the facsimile volume, p. 82;
  • Martin Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake, New Haven and London, 1981, vol. I, cat.  692.82, p.501. 

This drawing is one of two included in this selection which were made by William Blake in 1819 and formed part of the so-called ‘Blake-Varley’ sketchbook which was rediscovered in 1967. 

Under the influence of John Varley, Blake made a series of drawings that were apparently manifestations of historical figures. Blake seems to have humoured the credulous Varley’s belief in the material presence of the visions, though Joseph Burke has suggested the possibility that they could have been genuine eidetic images of physiological origin. The drawings were almost certainly made by Blake at Varley’s house, when, as Allan Cunningham describes Varley sat beside Blake from ‘ten at night till three in the morning’ drawing ‘portraits of those whom I most desired to see’. These drawings were made at one of the most electric moments of Blake’s creativity and the present two drawings, have not been on the market since the dispersal of the sketchbook at auction in 1971.

This drawing shows a female figure apparently, as Butlin observed, with her arms bound. Given her apparently archaic hairstyle, tense expression and bare breasts, Blake may well have meant to depict a heroic female captive.

These fascinating drawings belong to one of the most complex and under-researched areas of Blake’s production and more work still needs to be done on the Blake-Varley sketchbook and the precise implication of the individual drawings.