Library finds 350 lost Blake etchings

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A library has discovered a treasure trove of 350 engravings by William Blake in its archives.

Staff at the John Rylands Library were stunned to discover the works by the acclaimed 18th and early 19th century artist tucked away in its collection.

Many of the books were part of the earliest collection of books at the landmark library when it opened on Deansgate in 1900.

A number of known Blake works – including hand-coloured illustrations of Young’s Night Thoughts – have always been among the library’s most treasured possessions.

But staff suspected more might be hidden in its collection of a million books and records.

Librarians enlisted the aid of art history staff and students at Manchester University to help conduct a painstaking search of their shelves and stores.

A team of students, working alongside lecturer and acclaimed Blake expert Colin Trott, spent two years scouring through the pages of old books covering the period of the artist’s working life.

To their amazement, they discovered inside a number of books, hundreds of engraved plates which had been designed by the artist.

Archivist Stella Halkyard, from the library, said: “As well as being a fine artist, Blake was an engraver and produced a wide variety of work.

“The students had some specialist training in identifying the work and went through the collection. They found out we actually had a huge number of commercial engravings by Blake.

“Engraving has always been looked down on as an art form, and commercial engraving more so. But he is a hugely influential figure whose artwork was ahead of his time and whose poems are taught in our classrooms.” Many of the newly-found engravings will go on show at the library next month.

Although Blake was a Londoner, who spent most of his life in the capital, a number of his most significant works are held in Manchester. Curators now hope they will be able to stage a second ‘super-exhibition’ of Blake artwork held across the city. Ms Halkyard added: “It is incredibly rare to have so many engravings by Blake together in one place. It is an incredible array of subjects and really showcases his talent.”

The Blake exhibition runs at the John Rylands Library from February 7 to June 23.