The Bentley Collection of approximately 2,500 works by and about William Blake and his contemporaries came to Victoria University Library in 2005. The collection is the product of more than fifty years of scholarly book and print collecting and often the source for G.E.Bentley, Jr.'s many bibliographical and biographical publications: it includes original Blake manuscript and prints, Blake's contemporary commercial engravings plus modern reproductions and facsimiles, the manuscripts and drawings of Blake's close friend George Cumberland, books by John Flaxman, illustrated books before 1835, and Blake scholarship and criticism.
Robert N. Essick, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Riverside, himself a Blake scholar and collector considers "the Bentley collection one of the three most important Blake collections, institutional or private, formed in the second half of the twentieth century..." In addition to obvious 'high-points' such as Copy M of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell , the "Riddle" manuscript, the Cumberland manuscripts and very rare printed material, the central core of the collection is the books with Blake's engravings and the related individual prints such as the Job and Dante engravings. Before its transfer to the Library, the Bentley collection was known to Blake scholars as one of the largest gatherings of Blake's commercial book illustrations in a private collection.
This exhibition, in celebration of the gift of the Bentley Collection to Victoria University, necessarily presents a limited, yet representative, selection from its riches. The exhibition and catalogue notes show aspects of Blake's social, artistic and business relationships with important members of his circle and those on its fringes, and give an indication of the range of his commercial and imaginative work.