back to works by this artist go to previous work   go to next work

William Blake

1757 – 1827

Group of Negros, as imported to be sold for Slaves by William Blake

Group of Negros, as imported to be sold for Slaves   1791-93

  Engraving with etching by William Blake after Stedman.
With William Blake’s name in the plate.
Ref: Essick XXXIII 6; Ray 2; Bentley 408a; Keynes 111
S 266 x 207 mm; I 182 x 134 mm
Engraving with etching by William Blake.

A very good impression from the first edition, as published in Narrative, of a Five Years’ Expedition, Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, by Captain J.G. Stedman (J.Johnson & J.Edwards, London, 1796). Scarce.

William Blake was trained first and foremost as a professional engraver and his engravings for this work are ranked by Keynes among his “most interesting and important book illustrations”. The work contained 80 engravings by various hands which are generally acknowledged to have been based on drawings made by Captain J.G. Stedman, although only two of the plates bear his name. Stedman was a personal friend of William Blake’s and it is likely that Blake modified Stedman’s designs, being those of an amateur artist. From the sole surviving watercolour by Stedman for this work, it is known that the engravers involved were allowed considerable liberty in adapting Stedman’s designs.

This engraving shows a group slaves who have just landed in Surinam from Guinea, in West Africa. Stedman describes them as “scarcely animated automatons…walking skeletons covered over with a piece of tanned leather” but despite his abhorrence of slavery goes on to note “that instead of all those horrid and dejected countenances which are described in pamphlets and in news-papers, I perceived not one single downcast look amongst them all” remarking that the sailor who was herding them along used his bamboo-rattan stick “with the utmost moderation”. Whilst William Blake’s engraving reflects the mood of the slaves described by Stedman, the figures are considerably less emaciated than the text relates.

On antique wove paper, watermarked 1794, with wide margins beyond the image on all sides, as issued. First issue, with the December 1793 publication line. Mild discolouration and some marginal foxing, otherwise very good original condition.