Poems of Thomas Gray

with watercolour illustrations by William Blake

Limited to 1,000 copies – publication date 11 April 2013

Perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most idiosyncratic, of all English Romantic artists, William Blake engraved around 1,200 illustrations for the work of other writers. He also  produced 375 pages of stereotyped engraving – his self-illustrated verse. The 116  watercolours that he created for Thomas Gray’s poems are among his greatest  achievements. Varied in style and boldly imaginative, they were commissioned around  1797 by Blake’s friend the neoclassical sculptor John Flaxman, as a gift for his wife, Ann.

After Flaxman’s death in 1826, the watercolours were sold at Christie’s and soon came into the possession of the eccentric millionaire William Beckford, who left his library to his daughter, wife of the 10th Duke of Hamilton. But, when the library was sold at Sotheby’s in 1882, the Gray illustrations were missing.

‘One of the richest and most fascinating of Blake’s series of illustrations’

It was not until 1919 that the scholar and literary critic Professor Herbert Grierson  announced their discovery during the demolition of Hamilton Palace in Scotland. In a letter to The Times, he declared: ‘I have seen no collection which illustrates so fully the range of Blake’s power.’

Reproducing all 116 watercolours, this new Folio Society facsimile captures the breadth  and beauty of an enthralling work. It is accompanied by a commentary volume containing Irene Tayler’s 1971 book, Blake’s Illustrations to the Poems of Gray, which remains the most authoritative analysis of the illustrations. Alongside this is a foreword by Martin Butlin, former Keeper of the Historic British Collection at the Tate Gallery and the author of the catalogue raisonné of the paintings and drawings of William Blake.

‘Blake’s work is at once imperious and ironic, denunciatory and satirical, lyrical and ambiguous’


Production details:

Quarter leather binding with cloth sides,  printed and blocked with a design from ‘Ode to Music’, redrawn by David Eccles .
Endpapers of Curious Metallics gold leaf and Marcate Nettuno Carruba. Printed on Modigliani Insize Candido paper. 120 pages. Book size: 17½” x 13″.

Commentary volume bound in cloth. Set in Miller Display. 224 pages plus a frontispiece portrait of Blake by John Flaxman. Book size: 9½” x 6″. Both volumes presented in a buckram-bound solander box.

Published price £495


Folio Society limited editions are outstanding works of literary or historical significance  reproduced as works of art in their own right. Many of our editions are facsimiles of  treasures held in some of the world’s greatest libraries and museums. For others, we commission leading artists and craftsmen to create editions that represent the pinnacle of  book publishing. All are designed to become keepsakes for future generations.