William Blake rediscovered illustration expected to make $600,000

A watercolour illustration by William Blake that was rediscovered in 2001 is set to provide the main attraction at Sotheby's Old Master Drawings auction, which will be held on January 30 in New York.

William Blake The Grave Illustrations
Sotheby's holds all of the top 10 results for William Blake's work

The piece, entitled The Gambols of Ghosts According with Their Affections Previous to the Final Judgement, will be offered with a $400,000-600,000 estimate. It is one of 19 such works that were rediscovered in a Glasgow bookshop in 2001 and were subsequently put up for auction at Sotheby's New York in 2006. The work failed to sell on that occasion.

Their first appearace at auction was in 1836, when they were sold by the widow of publisher Robert Cromek for £1 and five shillings.

The top lot of the special 2006 auction was Blake's Death of the Strong Wicked Man, which sold for $1.5m. However, the auction came under fire from Tate Britain - which has one of the world's largest holdings of Blake's work - who believed that the pieces should be kept together until more research had been conducted.

The illustrations were created on commission from Robert Cromek, who wanted to create a deluxe edition of Robert Blair's epic poem The Grave, which was first published in 1743. Although almost unknown today, the poem was hugely popular in its day, having gone through 47 editions by 1798.

The Cromek edition was eventually published in 1808, and it is believed that Blake created around 22 illustrations for it. The Gambol of Ghosts is "one of the freest and most dynamic compositions" in the series, according to Sotheby's.

The current world record for William Blake's art at auction was set at Sotheby's in May 2004 by the sale of his The Good and Evil Angels Struggling for Possession of a Child, which soared past its $1.5m high estimate by 161.8% to sell for $3.9m.

The auction will follow Sotheby's sale of the estate of Giancarlo Baroni on January 29-30, which features an important work by El Greco. Sign up to Paul Fraser Collectibles' free weekly newsletter for more of the latest news on art collecting and investment.

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