A group of 30 works spanning 40 years of illustration formed part of the King Street sale of Valuable Books and Manuscripts on July 11 with a further 15 pieces included in an online sale closing the following day. The proceeds (the premium-inclusive total was £768,625) will benefit three charities: The House of Illustration, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity and Survival International.
Blake’s best-loved projects were those completed in collaboration with Roald Dahl. Included here were a quartet of large-scale watercolours from a series of ten ‘Alternative Versions’ produced for the 2016 Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits project, celebrating 100 years since the author’s birth.
Centenary Portraits project
Blake explained the project thus: “The Centenary Portraits ask you to imagine that a number of Dahl’s characters have been invited to come and sit for their portrait; they are depicted, not quite as they appear in the illustrations, but more formally … I hope visitors will be happy to see this group of well-known characters treated as though they were real people – which, of course, to many of us they are.
Each measuring 2ft 4in x 22in (76 x 56cm) and was pitched at £10,000-15,000. Offered on July 11, were Charlie, Willie Wonka and Grandpa Joe, Sophie and the BFG and Matilda. They sold at contrasting sums of £40,000 (a record for any illustration by Blake), £14,000 and £35,000. Leading the online sale at £28,000 was the centenary portrait of the Grand High Witch from The Witches. A 25% buyer’s premium was charged at both sales.
Also demonstrating the appeal of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was The Vanilla Fudge Room, a pen, ink and watercolour not seen until one of Roald Dahl’s early drafts for the book were published in 2014 to coincide with its 50th anniversary. Notably here, the fudge is mined by men rather than Oompa-Loompas, for Dahl had not yet created the tiny people from Loompaland, Charlie Bucket is accompanied by his parents (instead of Grandpa Joe) and there are more than just the five Golden Ticket winners we are familiar with. Roald Dahl himself gave a clue as to why this chapter was eventually removed: “The trouble, though … was that I liked writing about beastly children so much that I couldn’t stop … I knew I had to throw out all except four of them. But I didn’t like doing it”. The 15 x 11in (38 x 28cm) monochrome was sold well over hopes at £10,000.
Among the earlier works in this 45-strong selection was an illustration for The Enormous Crocodile, Dahl’s first book with Blake illustrations. Measuring 15 x 21in (38 x 54cm), it was created as an alternative version for the second and third pages of the 1978 edition of the book. Here, watched by the Not-So-Big One, the Enormous Crocodile emerges from the big, brown muddy river as he sets out to eat some delicious, juicy children for his lunch. The selling price was £11,000 (estimate £5000-8000).
Among Blake’s more recent projects has been the illustration of the popular series of books for children by David Walliams. The first of these was Boy in the Dress (2008) – the tale of 12-year-old Dennis who is expelled from school for wearing girls’ clothing. His football team encourage him to be true to himself and play in a dress which he does - ultimately winning the match. Billy and the Football Team, an 11 x 15in (27 x 37cm) signed pen, ink and watercolour monochrome, was created as an alternative version for page 191 of the first edition. It more than doubled hopes at £2400.