Wednesday, June 17, 2020


Blake Quarterly
Manchester Etching Workshop
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
British Museum
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Copy B 

It seems that there is some degree of chance involved if one is open to attempting to do something original. Paul Richie learned through a chance conversation with the curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum that the electrotypes for Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience might be made available to him in order to make a facsimile. In an abandoned warehouse, the Manchester Etching Workshop was set up in 1978 to make facsimiles of Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Copy B in the British Museum was used to determine the hand coloring in watercolor which should be followed. There are 16 pages in a set to match the number of electotypes in the V&A collection.

The process used by Manchester Etching Workshop followed Blake's methods instead of turning to more resent technology. The V&A electrotypes were made from the set used in Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of Blake, 1863 and 1880. The V&A electrotypes had been made from Blake's original copper plates which had later been destroyed. The same meticulous attention which went into making prints as close as possible to monochrome prints made by Blake, went into the coloring of the images according to the way Blake had colored Copy B.

One copy of the Manchester Etching Workshop facsimile was given to the British Museum by Ritchie. The total number of copies made were 40 colored copies and 35 monochrome. Ritchie was particularly qualified to oversee the printing since he was educated as an artist and a printmaker. Ritchie like Blake although willing to make prints of another artist's work, preferred to be a printmaker of his own work and he returned to Scotland to open his own studio and gallery.

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 547)  
Satan calling up his Legions, from Milton's Paradise Lost; a
composition for a more perfect Picture, afterward executed for a 
Lady of high rank. An experiment Picture.

THIS Picture was likewise painted at intervals, for experiment on
colours, without any oily vehicle; it may be worthy of attention,
not only on account of its composition, but of the great labour
which has been bestowed on it, that is, three or four times as
much as would have finished a more perfect Picture; the labor
has destroyed the lineaments, it was with difficulty brought back
again to a certain effect, which it had at first, when all the
lineaments were perfect.
  These Pictures, among numerous others painted for
experiment, were the result of temptations and
perturbations, labouring to destroy Imaginative power, by means
of that infernal machine, called Chiaro Oscuro, in the hands of
Venetian and Flemish Demons; whose enmity to the Painter himself,
and to all Artists who study in the Florentine and Roman
Schools, may be removed by an exhibition and exposure of their
vile tricks.  They cause that every thing in art shall become a
Machine.  They cause that the execution shall be all blocked up
with brown shadows.  They put the original Artist in fear and
doubt of his own original conception.  The spirit of Titian was
particularly active, in raising doubts concerning the possibility
of executing without a model, and when once he had raised the
doubt, it became easy for him to snatch away the vision time
after time, for when the Artist took his pencil, to execute his
ideas, his power of imagination weakened so much, and darkened,
that memory of nature and of Pictures of the various
Schools possessed his mind, instead of appropriate execution,
resulting from the inventions; like walking in another man's
style, or speaking or looking in another man's style and manner,
unappropriate and repugnant to your own individual character;
tormenting the true Artist, till he leaves the Florentine, and
adopts the Venetian practice, or does as Mr. B. has done, has the
courage to suffer poverty and disgrace, till he ultimately
Songs of Experience, Plate 48, (E 28)
"INFANT SORROW                                  

My mother groand! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my fathers hands:
Striving against my swadling bands:
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mothers breast."

Although I have not learned the the prices at which the Manchester Etching Workshops facsimiles were originally offered, I find that prices of used copies at Abe Books and at Archives Fine Books ranged from 14 to 20 thousand dollars.

Images from the Abe Books website:

Title Page Songs of Innocence

Title Page Songs of Experience


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