For me one of the high points in attending the “Return of the Ring” event in Loughborough, England in August was the chance to hear a lecture by Dutch painter Cor Blok. There were also several original Tolkien-based paintings by Blok in the exhibition hall, and it was a pleasure to see those “in person.”
In recent years, Blok has become better known to fans. HarperCollins took the unusual step of publishing two calendars in a row, 2011 and 2012, featuring his work. The release of A Tolkien Tapestry in 2011 gave us a nearly complete look at Blok’s paintings.
One intriguing aspect of Blok’s career is that he showed five of his paintings to Tolkien back in the early 1960s, and Tolkien admired them enough to buy two of them (as editor Pieter Collier explains in the foreword to A Tolkien Tapestry). These were “The Battle of the Hornburg” and a version of “The Dead Marshes.” In writing to Blok and requesting to buy the paintings, Tolkien remarked, “I think it is very kind of you to consider selling any of your pictures. If they were mine I should not be able to bear to part with them whether in need or not.” (This 1962 letter is reproduced on p. 6 of the book.) Blok gave Tolkien a third painting, “Dunharrow,” as a present. These are all still in the Tolkien family or with the Estate.
Interestingly, Tolkien found the paintings appealing specifically as paintings. He wrote to his editor, Rayner Unwin, “I thought them most attractive … I should very much like to see some more, in the hope that some more will be as good as ‘The Battle of the Hornburg.’ The other four I thought were attractive as pictures, but bad as illustrations.” (Quoted p. 6 of A Tolkien Tapestry.)
Blok’s paintings are very stylized and distinctive, and one can understand Tolkien’s feeling that they might not make good illustrations for an edition of The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, A Tolkien Tapestry’s subtitle describes them as Pictures to Accompany the Lord of the Rings.
Some find them unattractive, but I am among those who like them a great deal. For many, I think, Blok has come to rank alongside the best of Tolkien-inspired painters, like John Howe, Alan Lee, and Ted Nasmith.
During his talk, Blok mentioned that he had lost track of the whereabouts of some of his paintings. In the early 1990s, Blok loaned a group of them to an exhibition. A dealer then sold them as a lot to a single collector.
After that collector’s death, however, the heirs wanted to dispose of the paintings. Without notifying Blok, between roughly 1994 and 2005, the same dealer sold the collection, this time one or two paintings at a time. He did not keep track of the contact information for the people who purchased them.
Blok is interested in obtaining that information. I should stress that the paintings were sold quite legally, and he is not seeking to re-acquire them. He simply wants to know who has them, in case someone might wish to mount an exhibition of his work. Most of these sales probably involved collectors in the Netherlands and Belgium, though of course the paintings might have been re-sold again and gone to other countries.
Some the paintings were sold without any images of them being kept, and hence they don’t feature in A Tolkien Tapestry.
It occurred to me that TheOneRing.net would be the ideal place to post an appeal for help in tracing the ownership of these paintings. Surely with such a wide readership of enthusiastic fans, many of whom collect Tolkien-related art and know others who do, we could come up with information about at least a few.
Here’s a list of the paintings, with the page numbers from A Tolkien Tapestry for the ones that appear in the book. Roman numerals refer to paintings of which more than one version was created. The titles in bold type are ones Blok is particularly interested in tracing:
“The Game of Riddles” (p. 59)
“Gandalf persuades Bilbo to leave the Ring to Frodo” (p. 53)
“Weathertop” (p. 76)
“The Balrog II” (p. 92)
“Frodo’s Vision on Amon Hen” (pp. 100-101)
“Isengard” (p. 115)
“Gollum’s Promise” (p. 121)
“The Forbidden Pool” (p. 128)
“The Cross-roads” (p. 129)
“Sam Attacks Shelob” (p. 132)
“The Stone of Erech” (p. 135)
“The Dead Marshes I”
Again, images of the last two were not kept, so the need to find their owners is particularly acute. A lot of us would like to see those published!
If anyone has one of the paintings or can refer us to someone who does, please email me here: email@example.com. I’ll pass the information along to Cor Blok. Thanks for any help you can provide! Please tweet about this and share the appeal on Facebook as well.
This seems like an opportune time to mention that a series of prints reproducing some of Blok’s paintings has just been issued. Early this year Pieter Collier of The Tolkien Library listed a large number of the originals for sale, and there are only a few left. That same link, however, will display a list of the new prints. The ones I saw at “Return of the Ring” were very high in quality and should appeal to those who can’t afford originals or have missed the opportunity to acquire their favorite. The only disadvantage of the prints is that they cannot reproduce the unique textured paper used in the paintings.
“Rivendell,” by Cor Blok