Export bar placed on Blake paintings

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The Independent Online

A valuable collection of William Blake watercolours discovered lying in a Glasgow bookshop has been stopped from leaving the country.

The Government has placed a temporary export bar on the set of 19 paintings, which have been valued at £8.8m.

It was five years ago that the highly-finished watercolours by one of Britain's leading Romantic artists were discovered in the bookshop. They found their way there following the death of their former owner who was unaware of their value.

Experts called it "arguably the most important discovery since Blake [who lived from 1757 to 1827] started to be appreciated in the second half of the 19th century".

The paintings were commissioned in 1804 to illustrate a new edition of The Grave, a meditation on mortality and redemption, written by the Scottish poet Robert Blair in 1743. Seven of the watercolours were unknown to modern scholars.

Estelle Morris, the Arts minister, acted on the recommendation of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art by placing the temporary export bar. It is hoped the works, which mark a vital element in the development of British Romanticism, will be saved for the nation.

The value of the artworks was discovered when two booksellers from Yorkshire acquired the paintings and took them for independent valuation. Two Tate gallery experts verified the find.