Blake in Brooklyn: A New Acquisition of a Rare Facsimile

  • Posted on Mar 29, 2010 by

Some say the future of art museum libraries will be the rare or unique research resources we collect. With that in mind at Brooklyn, we have been focusing our collection development policy on “rarer” items that are not readily available in other libraries. One recent acquisition falls into this category with the donation of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake (London: Camden Hotten, 1868).

This beautiful facsimile comes from the personal library of our Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman and complements many other Blake facsimiles and texts we have in the Brooklyn Museum Library, as well as the Great Red Dragon in the Museum’s European Art collection.

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (1868)

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (1868)

Recorded in William Blake’s Illuminated Books: a census by G. L. Keynes, this rare facsimile is a hand-colored copy of Copy F of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that is owned by the Morgan Library and Museum and recently exhibited at the Morgan in William Blake's World: "A New Heaven Is Begun" (September 11, 2009-January, 3 2010). See the digital copy on the Morgan’s website.

In addition to the Pierpont Morgan Museum, few libraries report ownership of this facsimile. Bilbliographies on Blake report that possibly 150 copies of this edition were printed. The copy recently donated to the Brooklyn Museum contains two bookplates: “Spero Meliora: William L. Baker” (Scottish Clan translation: “Aspire to Greater Things”), and “Ex Libris A. Edward Newton Oak Knoll 1909”, an illustrated bookplate containing the quote, “Sir, the biographical part of literature is what I love most …” The key bookplate here is the one from A (Alfred) Edward Newton (1864-1940), a Blake collector who contributed to William Blake, 1757-1827, a Descriptive Catalogue of an exhibition of the works of William Blake selected from collections in the United States (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1939). In this exhibition catalog, Newton refers to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell as “the most daring in conception and gorgeous in illustration of all Blake’s works”.

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (1868)

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (1868)

We are delighted to own Mr. Newton’s copy, which was recorded in the Bibliography of William Blake edited by Geoffrey Keynes (Grolier Club, 1921). Max Plowman’s notes in the 1927 facsimile edition of the original Marriage of Heaven and Hell - held in the Fitzwilliam Museum - also refer to Newton’s copy. The Brooklyn Museum Library holds a copy of this 1927 facsimile edition as well: The marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake, reproduced in facsimile from an original copy of the work printed and illuminated by the author between the years 1825-1827 and now in the Fitzwilliam museum Cambridge; with a note by Max Plowman. (London: J. M. Dent and sons limited; New York, E. P. Dutton & co., 1927.)

In addition to being a research tool, we plan to exhibit the 1868 facsimile in upcoming exhibitions here at the Brooklyn Museum. Come visit and see this rare book in person!

Deirdre Lawrence, Principal Librarian, Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives


Having just seen "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" in the exhibit at The Morgan Library, it's most exciting to hear that this rare hand-colored facsimile is now located in a Library so close to me. Arnold Lehman is to be commended for this generous donation from his personal library.

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