Among the activities which occupied Blake when he was associated with William Hayley in Felpham was painting miniature portraits. One of the few Blake miniatures which have survived is of the poet William Cowper which was created in conjunction with a biography of Cowper which Hayley was writing.
Letters,(E 726) [To James Blake] Felpham Jany 30--1803. ... "However this I know will set you at Ease. I am now so full of work that I have had no time to go on with the Ballads, & my prospects of more & more work continually are certain. My Heads of Cowper for Mr H's life of Cowper have pleasd his Relations exceedingly & in Particular Lady Hesketh & Lord Cowper
Lady H was a doubtful chance who almost adord her Cousin the poet & thought him all perfection & she writes that she is quite satisfied with the portraits & charmd by the great Head in particular tho she never could bear the original Picture"
Letters, (E 716) ..." I continue painting Miniatures & Improve more & more as all my friends tell me. but my Principal labour at this time is Engraving Plates for Cowpers Life a Work of Magnitude which Mr Hayley is now Labouring with all his matchless industry"
Letters, (E 715) [To Thomas Butts] Felpham May 10. 1801 My Dear Sir The necessary application to my Duty as well to my old as new Friends has prevented me from that respect I owe in particular to you. And your accustomed forgiveness of My want of dexterity in certain points Emboldens me to hope that Forgiveness to be continued to me a little longer. When I shall be Enabled to throw off all obstructions to success. Mr Hayley acts like a Prince. I am at complete Ease. but I wish to do my Duty especially to you who were the praecursor of my present Fortune[.] I never will send you a picture unworthy of my present proficiency. I soon shall send you several my present engagements are in Miniature Painting Miniature is become a Goddess in my Eyes & my Friends in Sussex say that I Excell in the pursuit. I have a great many orders & they Multiply Now--let me intreat you to give me orders to furnish every accomodation in my power to recieve you & Mr Butts I know my Cottage is too narrow for your Ease & comfort we have one room in which we could make a bed to lodge you both & if this is sufficient it is at your service. but as beds & rooms & accomodations are easily procurd by one on the spot permit me to offer my service in either way either in my cottage or in a lod[g]ing in the village as is most agreeable to you if you & Mr Butts should think Bognor a pleasant relief from business in the Summer. It will give me the utmost delight to do my best Sussex is certainly a happy place & Felpham in particular is the sweetest spot on Earth at least it is so to me & My Good Wife who desires her kindest Love to Mrs Butts & yourself accept mine also & believe me to remain Your devoted WILL BLAKE"As promised in the following letter, Blake completed a miniature of Thomas Butts for his wife. He later produced the miniature of Mrs Butts which appeared in the post Blake's Phoenix. A third portrait of a member of the Butts family is also in the British Museum - young Thomas Butts who was a student of Blake.
Letters,(E 719) [To] Mr Butts, Gr Marlborough Street Felpham Novr. 22: 18O2 ... "But You will justly enquire why I have not written All this time to you? I answer I have been very Unhappy & could not think of troubling you about it or any of my real Friends (I have written many letters to you which I burnd & did not send) & why I have not before now finishd the Miniature I promissd to Mrs Butts? I answer I have not till now in any degree pleased myself & now I must intreat you to Excuse faults for Portrait Painting is the direct contrary to Designing & Historical Painting in every respect--If you have not Nature before you for Every Touch you cannot Paint Portrait. & if you have Nature before you at all you cannot Paint History it was Michall Angelos opinion & is Mine. Pray Give My Wife's love with mine to Mrs Butts assure her that it cannot be long before I have the pleasure of Painting from you in Person & then that She may Expect a likeness but now I have done All I could & know she will forgive any failure in consideration of the Endeavour."
British Museum Thomas Butts II
British Museum Thomas Butts