A recently rediscovered illustration entitled The Gambols of Ghost According with their Affections Previous to the Final Judgement by William Blake has provided the highest bids in Sotheby's Old Master Drawings auction in New York.
The work was part of a series of 19 illustrations that Blake created for Robert Blair's epic poem The Grave. It sold for $722,500, making a 20.4% increase on its $600,000 high estimate at the January 30 sale.
The remarkable series was discovered in a Glasgow bookshop in 2001 and subsequently put up for auction at Sotheby's New York in 2006, where the present work failed to sell. The 2006 sale was topped by a $1.5m piece entitled Death of the Strong Wicked Man.
Despite these strong results, the auction came under fire from Tate Britain - which has one of the world's largest holdings of Blake's work - as it felt that all of the illustrations should be kept together to allow for further research.
The illustrations first came about as a commission from Robert Cromek, who planned to create a deluxe edition of Blair's poem, which was originally published in 1743. Published in 1808, the Cromek edition is thought to have contained around 22 Blake illustrations, with Gambol of Ghosts described as "one of the freest and most dynamic compositions" of the series by Sotheby's.
The current auction record for an example of Blake's art is also held by Sotheby's, after it sold The Good and Evil Angels Struggling for Possession of a Child for $3.9m in May 2004.
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