Blake would sometimes create engraved versions of his watercolours or drawings for patrons so that large amounts of prints could then be made and sold on. In some cases he would even return to artworks several decades later, perhaps when a patron decided that there maybe profits to be made. Most of his commissions did not prove commercially successful during the artist’s own lifetime, sadly, but his original artworks today are worth substantial amounts. It is a blessing that so much of his best work remains in the UK so that those proud of this fellow Brit can easily access some of his art. His poetry has also left a significant legacy with many being aware of it even if they do not know the source himself.
First Eclogue was chosen as the source of inspiration for this artwork, which was a poem by Virgil. Ambrose Phillips would rework the text for a more modern audience and it was that version which would then be used for this piece. Virgil's Tityrus and Meliboeus, therefore become Thenot and Colinet in the new version. The commission was then handed to William Blake in 1819. Some of the other titles of this series included Thenot Remonstrates with Colinet, Thenot and Colinet at Supper and Thenot and Colinet Folding their Flocks together at Sunset. A series of prints was produced in 1821 and then another fairly recently in 1977. This explains how so many unsocial prints are now floating around several British art collections, as well as a number more within the US.
Blake's woodblocks for his illustrations to Ambrose Philip's Imitation of Virgil's First Eclogue in Dr Thornton's Pastorals of Virgil... Adapted for Schools were acquired by the British Museum in 1939 (1939-14-1-2 to 18). In 1977 one hundred and fifty sets of the seventeen engravings, together with an additional fifty impressions of the larger frontispiece, were printed for the British Museum by Iain Bain and David Chambers. The efforts taken to produce the optimum results are described in their introduction to the publication that goes with the restrikes. Despite some damages and warping certain details and gradations of tone were revealed which had not been picked out either in the early printings or in those from the electrotypes.