Lot 160
  • 160

William Blake

20,000 - 30,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • William Blake
  • Joseph Ordering Simeon to be bound
  • Pen and black ink and watercolour over traces of pencil, on laid paper watermarked with the fleur de lis
  • 339 by 482 mm


Alexander Macmillan, by 1876;
by descent to his daughter, Mrs Norman Maclehose;
by descent to her daughter, Mrs Arthur Moverley;
by descent to her daughter, Mrs B. Clarke;
her sale, London, Sotheby's, 24 June 1971, lot 108


London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, The Works of William Blake, 1876, no. 142


M. Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake, London 1981, no. 158, pl. 186  

Catalogue Note

In this powerful watercolour Blake depicts a moving passage from the Book of Genesis. Joseph, who had become an influential figure in the Pharaoh’s household after successfully interpreting the Egyptian ruler’s dreams and therefore predicting a seven year famine, has been approached by ten of his eleven brothers. Desperate to acquire grain to replace their own poor quality crops in Canaan, the brothers fail to recognize Joseph as their long lost sibling. Seizing an opportunity to take revenge for the earlier wrongs inflicted upon him by his brothers, Joseph accuses them of being spies and decrees that while nine of them should be banished from the kingdom, Simeon should be imprisoned.

This is evidently a moment of high tension and great emotion, Blake masterfully depicts the shock on the brothers' faces, while showing Joseph collapsed against a table, weeping under the strain of his decision. This drawing, with its confident pen-work and subtle washes of colour, is a preparatory study for a watercolour of the same title that Blake exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1785 (see fig 1). That watercolour is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and was one of three works created by Blake in that year that focused on Joseph’s story.