William Blake

Job, his Wife and his Friends: The Complaint of Job. Verso: Job’s Wife and Eight Other Sketches


Not on display

William Blake 1757–1827
Ink and watercolour on paper. Verso: graphite on paper
Support: 311 × 451 mm
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940

Display caption

This work shows the 'perfect and upright' God-fearing Job of the Old Testament, who has endured the loss of his children and all his possessions. He has also been smitten by boils. In despair, he cries out to God 'What is Man that thou shouldest... try him every moment?' Blake's image of the Biblical Job as one who 'holdeth fast his integrity' in the face of adversity has autobiographical echoes. Having endured and recovered from his trials Job praises his Lord. Similarly, Blake, just before he died, 'burst out into singing of the things he saw in heaven'.

Gallery label, April 2001

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

N05200 Job, his Wife and his Friends: The Complaint of Job c.1785 (recto)
Job's Wife and other Sketches c.1785 (verso)

N 05200 / B 162
Recto: pen and grey wash; Verso: pencil; on paper 311×451 (12 1/4 ×17 3/4)
Inscribed on verso by Frederick Tatham(?), ‘Job his Wife/& 3 friends’ b.r.
Bequcathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940
Mrs Blake; Frederick Tatham, ? sold Sotheby's 29 April 1862 (in 164 with another version of this subject and two of ‘The Death of Ezckiel's Wife’, Butlin 1981, nos.164–5) bt F.T. Palgrave; ...; ? sold anonymously Sotheby's 18–23 April 1904, 2nd day (403) bt W. Daniell; ...; Miss A.G.E. Carthew by 1914
Manchester (69), Nottingham (52) and Edinburgh (25) 1914; Paris and Vienna 1937 (2); British Painting Hamburg, Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen 1949–50 (1); Port Sunlight 1950 (17)
Binyon and Keynes Job 1935, I, p.3, recto pl.4; Keynes Separate Plates 1956, p.11; Blunt 1959, p.11; Keynes Blake Studies 1971, p.176, recto repr. p.45; Lindberg Job 1973, pp.11–12 nos.iii (recto) and iv (verso), 246–8 nos.10 Fi (recto) and to Fii (verso), pls.32 and 33; Bindman 1977, p.36; Bindman in Essick and Pearce 1978, p.94, recto pl.93; Paley 1978, p.19; Essick Printmaker 1980, pp.65–6; Butlin 1981, pp.61–2 no.162, pls.199 and 200; Essick 1982–3, p.30, recto pl.11; Essick Separate Plates 1983, p.20, figs.9 and 10; Warner 1984, p.58, pl.30

This drawing is generally accepted as being a typical example of Blake's style in pen and ink of the mid 1780s, being more accomplished than works such as no.4. It is an illustration to Job, vii, 17–18. Job, having lost his children and all his possessions, and having been smitten with sore boils (see N03340), asks God for justification: ‘What is man that thou shouldest ... try him every moment?’ The theme of Job's sufferings was later to be illustrated by Blake in two series of watercolours and one of engravings (see A00012-A00032; T05845).

This drawing is the first of three connected with the large line engraving entitled, in the second state, ‘Job. What is Man That thou shouldest Try him Every Moment?’ The recto of the Tate Gallery drawing differs from the other versions of the composition in that Job is seated between his wife and the three friends. On the back of the drawing the figure of his wife appears, alone, but in the position she was to occupy in all the subsequent versions of the composition.

The second state of the engraving bears a date 18 August 1793 but there exists an earlier undated state, which was assigned by Keynes and others to the year 1786 while the second state was accepted, at face value, as dating from 1793 (Keynes 1956, pp.10–12, pls. 6 and 7). The Tate drawing and the two subsequent drawings were also dated c. 1785.

However, the datings of the two states of the engravings, and of the two further drawings, have now been brought into doubt. Lindberg, on the grounds that the composition of the recto of the Tate drawing and that of its developments in the other two drawings show a further development of a drawing of c. 1793 in Blake's Notebook (Butlin 1981, no.201 20; repr. Lindberg 1973, pl.31), redated the first state of the engraving to 1793 and the second to c.1798. However, the dependence on the Notebook drawing is by no means certain. Nevertheless, it is now generally accepted that Blake's dates on the later states of his engravings refer to the date of the first state or original conception, not to the revised state. This argument has been most closely argued by Essick (1980, pp.64–73). The arguments for dating the first state of the engraving to 1793 are now accepted by most authorities including myself. The second state is tentatively dated to c. 1808–9 in Butlin 1979–80, pp.18–19, while both Essick and Lindberg now date this state even later, to the 1820s (Essick 1980, pp.65–8, 178–87, 219–20, and definitively, 1983, pp.17–20 no.v, the two states repr. figs. 7 and 9; Lindberg 1981–2, p.142).

The finished drawing now in the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco (Butlin no.164, pl.201) must now also be accepted as having been executed in the early 1790s (see Essick 1983, p.20, fig.11). An earlier version of the composition reappeared early in 1989; it had been sold from the collection of Miss Brenda G. Warr at Sotheby's, 17–21 December 1928, first day (138) when it was bought by Maggs (Butlin no.163). It corresponds in the placing of the figures to the finished drawing in San Francisco, though in style it parallels the first of two drawings for a companion print to the ‘Job’ showing ‘Ezekiel, I take away from thee the Desire of thine Eyes’. Of this only one state survives, dated 1794 but now presumed to share the later dating of the second state of the Job print, the technique of which it parallels; the putative first state would therefore be the work of 1794. There is a finished drawing in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Butlin no.166, pl.203) that matches in style the Job drawing at San Francisco, and there is also an earlier drawing, typical in style of works of the mid 1780s, in the collection of George C. Homans (Butlin no.165, pl.202; for the ‘Ezekiel’ print and related drawings see also Essick 1983, pp.21–3 no.vi, the print and drawings repr. figs.12–14).

To sum up, the various versions of the Job composition and their dates seem to be as follows: the Tate Gallery recto, the Tate Gallery verso, and the Brenda G. Warr drawing, all of c.1785; the more richly worked, finished drawing in San Francisco, and the first state of the engraving, of 1793 or thereabouts; the second, drastically reworked state of the print, dating from well into the nineteenth century, either c.1801–9 or from the 1820s.

On the verso, besides the drawing of Job's wife, there are a number of rapid pencil sketches, drawn with the paper held in different positions. To the right of Job's wife is what seems to be a sketch for the lower part of the foremost friend. Blake then used the paper to develop other themes. There is a small complete sketch of a figure with lyre and staff seated in a landscape, possibly Orpheus or Apollo, although no finished work of this subject is recorded. Various poses for this seated figure were tried out in four other sketches; two further sketches of this figure appear with other sketches on a drawing now in the collection of Edwin Wolf 2nd (Butlin no.81, pl.81). Possibly related to this theme is the minute composition sketch of a figure apparently standing before a screen of columns or trees. Finally there are two sketches of profiles and two more of eyes seen full-face.

The early history of the three drawings relating to the engraving of Job is confused, particularly as two drawings of this subject were bought by F.T. Palgrave at Sotheby's in 1862, and as all three are of much the same size, but the provenance given above seems to be the most probable one. The drawing sold anonymously in 1904 was described as ‘Job, his Wife and Three Friends. “What is a man that thou shouldest try him every moment?” Drawing, 17 1/2 in. ×12 in. This important drawing was formerly in the collection of Mr. Palgrave. It is fully described in Gilchrist's Life, 1863, vol.I, p.137 [the reference here is in fact to the engraving], and vol.II, p.240. On the back are several of Blake's designs in pencil.’ This sounds like the Tate Gallery's drawing. William Rossetti's listing in Gilchrist's Life of 1863, II, p.240 list 2 no.6, of a work from Palgrave's collection in fact sounds more like the Brenda G. Warr drawing in that Rossetti describes it as being ‘In outline; rather empty in manner’; he does not mention any drawings on the back, though there is in fact a sketch for ‘The Bard’, presumably related to the lost R.A. exhibit of 1785 (see N03551). It is just possible, though not very likely, that the drawing sold in 1904 could subsequently have belonged to Thomas Woolner, RA, before being acquired by Miss Carthew. It was sold from Woolner's collection at Sotheby's on 20 December 1912 (97, as ‘Job and his comforters’, pen and ink, 12 × 17 3/4 in) where it was bought by Tregaskis, appearing in his catalogue of January 1913. However, Woolner was a close personal friend of F.T. Palgrave, even sharing a house with him in 1861–2 (Amy Woolner, Thomas Woolner R.A. 1917, pp.205–6, 213), and he could more likely have acquired his drawing direct from Palgrave. Either way, the San Francisco drawing does not seem to have been that sold in 1904 as it seems to have no drawings on the back, nor can it have been owned by Woolner as it was bought by W. Graham Robertson in 1906 and retained by him until his death and its subsequent sale at Christie's in 1949.

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

You might like

In the shop