Though in his own day William Blake (1757-1827) was little known and often ridiculed as "mad," he is today widely considered to be one of England’s most important creative figures. A self-styled mystic, visionary, religious rebel, free thinker, and person who thought himself to be in direct communication with God, Blake’s popularity continues to grow with the passage of time. Since his death his work has been discovered and rediscovered by succeeding generations who have admired his poetry, engravings, drawings and painting.
Blake is the subject of countless biographies, historical papers, publications and scholarly works. During his lifetime he created hundreds of artworks -- including engraved illustrations, illuminated books, original writings and watercolors. The lifelong Londoner remains one of the only important figures of the Romantic movement whose work is still occasionally available to collectors.
This month noted antiquarian bookseller John Windle opens a William Blake exhibition space in San Francisco dedicated to the the works of the celebrated British artist, poet and print maker. The opening reception is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 14 from 5-8 p.m., at 49 Geary St., Suite #205 (2nd floor).
The new 500 square-foot gallery devoted to Blake's art is the brainchild of John Windle, 71, a San Francisco rare book dealer who has long been an important Blake specialist. He believes it is the first physical space exclusively dedicated to Blake's work in over two hundred years. It will house hundreds of original Blake pieces alongside thousands of reproductions. Works by Blake will be exhibited on a rotating basis. Among the pieces included in the display for the October opening are:
Illustrations to Dante’s Inferno, Earliest known proof set, seven plates and oblong folio, printed on laid paper
The Complaint of Job, 1785, monochrome wash drawing
Songs of Innocence: “Holy Thursday”, 1789, Single sheet, printed in black, matted
Plates from the final lifetime printing of The Gates of Paradise
The Virgin Hushing, 1799, Tempera on paper
Prices run from over $1,000,000 for original work to under $100 for numerous reproductions. (See the captioned photos for a selection of images and asking prices.)
The new gallery is an addition to Windle’s long established bookshop at the same address. The location also includes an annex, across the hall, that houses the firm’s collection of Blake's original works, reproductions or facsimile editions, scholarly and reference works. “We're referring to it as the William Blake Library, although of course all books are for sale,” said Annika Green, a Windle staffer.
“John has worked in the antiquarian book trade for most of his life,” Green continued, “and his passion and expertise in Blake has grown over the years. This venture was a matter of perfect timing. Blake seems to resonate more and more with people young and old, and he saw an opportunity to promote Blake in a time that might finally appreciate him.
“I myself, coming from an arts background, find Blake endlessly fascinating and inspiring. I originally came to John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller to photograph stock for their online inventory. I was so fascinated by the book trade that I've stayed, and now I'm the photographer and the graphic designer for our catalogues and lists (both printed and online), as well as helping customers, packing and shipping, and other tasks around the shop. When John mentioned his dream of a gallery devoted to Blake's artwork, I was thrilled. I enjoy his poetry as well, but I find his imagery most haunting, and I'm excited to share it with as many people as possible.”
According to Windle's website, “We handle all the multifaceted work of William Blake – books, prints, paintings, and manuscripts – assisting collectors and libraries in building and augmenting their collections. We have the largest collection in the world of books by and about William Blake and his circle for sale, comprising approximately 500 items and currently including: a unique color-printed image from the Songs of Innocence printed and hand-colored by Blake; an original pencil study of Paolo and Francesca for the unfinished Dante Divine Comedy; a complete suite of the seven engravings for the Divine Comedy; Illustrations of the Book of Job in the original boards; Young's Night Thoughts entirely untrimmed; and an almost complete run of the Trianon Press Blake Trust facsimiles of the illuminated books.”
One unique service offered by the firm “is access to our database of full collations of books by William Blake, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and Thomas Frognall Dibdin. If you are wondering how many versions of Blake’s Book of Job were issued, or how many plates the large-paper edition of Dibdin’s Bibliographical Decameron should have, just contact us and we'll send you the full entry from our bibliographies. There is no charge for this service.”
In addition to his longtime specialty in Blake, Windle also offers a selection of rare books and manuscripts from medieval times through the twentieth century. The shop specializes in medieval illuminated and text manuscripts, illustrated books and fine bindings from the 15th through the 20th century, and children's books from 1750 to 1950. The company has served an international clientele of private collectors, libraries, and institutions for over 40 years.
To view a few selections from the Blake Gallery, click here now.
Links to information about John Windle, his specialty in Blake, and other areas of expertise follow.
(Video) John Windle interviewed by Taylor Bowie in 2008. YouTube. This is a very informative biographical video that runs from his start as a lowly assistant at Quaritch’s in London to owner of his well known long running shop in San Francisco. www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2ri21eUvlQ
(Article) "Born (Again) in the USA," long interview in with John Windle by Sheila Markham in Bookdealer, Aug. 2010. Touches on his life in the book trade and expands on his own interest in things mystical. PDF format.
(Home page) John Windle, Bookseller San Francisco. www.johnwindle.com/shop/windle/index.html
(Windle’s Blake Gallery) - (was not yet fully operational when this story was written).
(Current Blake inventory) Blake books and publications listed on line by Windle.
(Catalog) PICTORIAL BLAKE 2011 illustrated catalog issued by Windle-80 page pdf, a spectacular set of black and white images along with detailed bibliography, also available in hard copy. www.johnwindle.com/windle/images/pdfs/Windle_Blake_FINAL.pdf
(Catalog Review) RBH’s Mike Stillman reviews Windle Catalog 64 featuring a number of Blake items from their forthcoming Blake gallery. www.rarebookhub.com/reviews/1854/print?page_id=3362
(Catalog Review) John Windle Catalog Review by Michael Stillman for June 2013. www.rarebookhub.com/reviews/1497?id=1497
(Catalog links) Current John Windle e-catalogs 2016 www.johnwindle.com/shop/windle/catalogs.html
John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller
49 Geary Street, Suite 233, San Francisco, CA 94108 USA