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Paul Williams of Fine Books at Ilkley and his colleague Jeffrey Bates are the subject of a High Court claim by Caledonia Books for the return of 19 mounted watercolours in a folio entitled Designs for Blair’s Grave.

“The case is due to go into mediation this week and obviously it would be best for both parties if the issue could be resolved,” said a trade source. “But if this fails to work then the gloves will come off.”

The defendants acquired the folio from Caledonia Books last year, and the outcome of the case is expected to hinge on whether money was paid in receipt of the watercolours, or whether they were taken on approval.

Dominic Winter Book Auctions in Swindon were approached with the folio, and they contacted various Blake scholars, including Robin Hamlyn of Tate Britain and Professor Bentley from Toronto, who had no doubt that the unsigned watercolours were genuine.

They knew that Blake had been commissioned by publisher Robert Cromek in 1805 to make a set of 40 drawings to illustrate a new edition of Robert Blair’s 1743 poem, The Grave, 20 of which Blake was supposed to engrave. But when the book was published in 1808 it contained only 12 designs. No one knew exactly how many drawings Blake actually produced, but it was assumed that they were the same “group of designs”, left by Cromek to his sister, that sold at an Edinburgh auction in 1836 for one pound and five shillings.

Dominic Winter announced the ‘rediscovery’ of the watercolour drawings to the national press, and planned to auction the folio in Junefor more than £1m.

However, Caledonia Books learned of the sale and stopped it with a High Court Order.