Catalogue entry

N05196 The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

N 05196 /-
Pen and watercolour 400×332 (15 3/4×13 1/8)
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew. 1940
PROVENANCE ...; Lord Coleridge; Lady Coleridge, sold anonymously Christie's 12 December 1898 (61) £23.2.0 bt Messrs Dunthorne, sold 1899 to Miss Carthew
EXHIBITED Carfax 1904 (not in catalogue; letter in Tate Gallery files); Bradford 1904 (399); Tate Gallery (25), Manchester (24), Nottingham (17) and Edinburgh (21) 1913–14; BFAC 1927 (22, pl.17); English Painting Brussels 1929 (3, pl.25); British Art RA 1934 (783, pl.86; 710, pl.164); Paris and Vienna 1937 (8); Wartime Acquisitions National Gallery 1942 (16); British Drawings from the Tate Gallery CEMA tour 1944 (5); Paris (repr. in colour facing p.18), Antwerp (repr. in colour as frontispiece), Zurich and Tate Gallery 1947 (14); Masters of British Painting New York, St Louis and San Francisco 1956–7 (8, repr. p.56)
LITERATURE Keynes Faber Gallery 1946, pp.5–6, colour pl.2; Keynes Bible 1957, p.38 no.130d repr.; Blunt 1959, p,73; Butlin 1981, p.355, under no.481. Also repr: Binyon 1922, pl.1922, pl.85 in colour

The subject is from Matthew XXV, 1–9. Although this watercolour was long accepted as a genuine work by William Blake, and indeed was much reproduced and exhibited (as listed above, with many further reproductions), it was recognized in the second edition of this catalogue (1971, p.54 no.44 repr.) as a copy after a version of this subject painted for Sir Thomas Lawrence in about 1825 (Butlin 1981 no.481, colour pl.569). According to Gilchrist (1863, 1, p.357) the original was one of two replicas after earlier compositions commissioned by Lawrence for 15 guineas each, the other being ‘The Vision of Queen Katherine’ (Butlin no.549, pl.589); he states that they were among ‘the last drawings executed, or at least finished by Blake’. There is evidence that Blake was at the same dinner party as Lawrence at Lady Caroline Lamb's on either 20 January 1818 or 20 June 1820, and visited him with John Linnell on 13 July 1822 (Bentley Blake Records 1969, pp.249–50, 277). Lawrence was also among those who defended Blake's illustrations to Thornton's Virgil (see nos.73–89). The replicas painted for Lawrence presumably date from this period or, bearing in mind Gilchrist's suggestion of a very late date, later, say c.1825. Lawrence's watercolours are now in a private collection and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, respectively.

Blake seems to have painted no fewer than three other versions of ‘The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins’ before that commissioned by Lawrence. The first was one of the series of biblical subjects painted for Thomas Butts and was apparently delivered to him on 12 May 1805; it is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Butlin no.478, colour pl.566). The second was painted for John Linnell, according to William Rossetti in 1822, and is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Butlin no.479, colour pl.567). A close variation of this was painted for William Haines a year or two later and is now in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven (Butlin no.480, colour pl.568).

As well as this copy after the Lawrence version there is a copy seemingly in the same hand of the second version, that painted for John Linnell, in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (see Alfred Moir, ed., European Drawings in the Collection of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1976, p.126, repr.; also repr. Keynes Bible 1957 no.130e in mistake for the Yale Center Version). Both can be attributed, for stylistic reasons, to John Linnell or one of his family or pupils; Linnell is known to have trained his pupils, who included a number of his sons, by setting them to copy works by Blake.

The reference by Bentley (1961, p.400 n.2) to Miss Carthew as being the granddaughter of John Poynder is a result of a misreading of the Tate Gallery exhibition catalogue of 1913, which refers to the Lawrence watercolour, then in the collection of the Poynder family, as another version of that lent to the exhibition by Miss Carthew.


Published in:
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990