Blake’s “Catalogue” and Descriptive Criticism

By Eric Loy

Illustrations to the Book of Job

By Megan Wilson

Blake’s A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures is much more than a simple description of the paintings Blake had for sale in London, 1809. The first evidence is the prologue where Blake, or as he calls himself “Mr. B,” defends his methods of art against the likes of Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt. Despite his hostile tone, the prologue is an acceptable place for such a defense, and the reader may allow the commentary without taking much exception to it.

But the Prologue is just the beginning.

This Descriptive Catalogue describes most of Blake’s works by how they triumph over his competitor’s “imitations.” One of my favorite examples of this is the section on item “Number III. Sir Jeffery Chaucer and the nine and twenty Pilgrims on their journey to Canterbury.” Mr. B. mocks his self-proclaimed rival Mr. S, aka Thomas Stothard, a very popular book illustrator at the time. The setting of Stothard’s version of the Canterbury Pilgrims, Blake argues, is not accurate to Chaucer’s description:

The scene of Mr. S’s Picture is by Dulwich Hills, which was not the way to Canterbury; but, perhaps, the painter thought he would give them a ride about, because they were a …read more