Rediscovered John Constable artworks in London sale

A portrait by John Constable of his uncleThree rediscovered works by revered English artist John Constable (1776-1837) are to be sold in London next month.

The artworks have emerged from two important private collections in the UK. Research undertaken by art specialist Suzanne Zack at Chiswick Auctions, alongside two external art experts, have verified that they are unequivocally by the the celebrated artist.

Constable portrait

The first of the artworks is an oil painting, publicly unseen for 70 years it dates from circa 1809 and is titled A Portrait of a Gentleman. It is believed to be John Constable’s uncle Abram Constable of Wormingford (1742-1812), who lived ten miles from East Bergholt in Dedham Vale, Suffolk.

John Constable expert

The painting appears in the catalogue raisonné by leading expert on the art of John Constable, Arthur Graham Reynolds (1914-2013), published in 1996, where he confirms its title of Abram Constable of Wormingford.

Although Constable is known mainly for his landscape works, he produced over 100 portraits in his lifetime. The work comes from the private collection of the family of art historian Ronald Brymer Beckett (1891-1970). Beckett pursued his interest in art for many years, collecting drawings by English artists. He published catalogues of the works of William Hogarth (1949) and Peter Lely (1951) and curated an exhibition of the work of William Blake and William Hogarth at the Tate Gallery in 1951.

John Constable in Manchester

In 1956, he was instrumental in mounting and curating the exhibition John Constable 1776-1837, held at Manchester City Art Gallery. He loaned works from his own collection, including the portrait in the sale of Abram Constable and researched and wrote the catalogue.

His most significant contribution to scholarship on the painter was his extensive research into the life and work of John Constable from hundreds of surviving letters, that he devoted many years to. Between 1962 and 1975 he published eight volumes of the edited Correspondence of John Constable (London H.M.S.O., 1962-1975), as well as Constable and the Fishers: The Record of a Friendship (1952). The Times Literary Supplement at the time wrote that, ‘No one, after reading a single volume, will come without a fresher and stronger vision to Constable’s painting’.

Beckett died in 1970, and this work is offered from his private collection by descent. It is estimated to fetch £30,000-£50,000.

Portrait of Constable’s wife

A pencil sketch by John Constable of his wfeThe second work, also from the R.B. Beckett collection is thought to be a portrait of Constable’s wife, Maria Elizabeth Bicknell (1788-1828). The pencil drawing is believed to have been produced towards the end of her life in the 1820s judging by the date of the paper on which it has been drawn, but an exact date is not known.

Portraiture, like letter writing played an important part in the romance between Constable and Maria, as they were often parted for long periods of time. This sensitive encapsulation of the love of his life evokes his sentiment towards her, which lasted until her untimely death of Tuberculosis in 1828. In a letter to his brother on her death, Constable wrote ‘I shall never feel again as I have felt, the face of the world is totally changed to me.

The portrait in the sale of Maria, is estimated to fetch £8,000-£12,000.

Commenting on the sale Suzanne Zack, Head of Sale, British and European Fine Art at Chiswick Auctions said: “It has been so exciting to have been shown these fascinating portraits from the collection of the late R.B. Beckett, who edited Constables’ letters, which have remained in the family unseen by the public since the 1950s.

“These portraits have such personal significance to Constable being his uncle and wife Maria. They give us a real feeling of the close relationship between the artist and sitter and add to the appreciation of Constable’s life and work beyond the great landscapes that he is best known for.”

Pencil drawing by Constable

A pencil drawing titled A River Landscape: A group of tall trees on the left, a bend of the river with willows on the far bank on the right, in the background a hill with a castle is thought perhaps to be Framlingham Castle, as it was thirty miles north of East Bergholt, where Constable resided. He also drew the castle many times between 1800-1815.

John Constable sketch believed to be of Framlingham castle

This charming drawing was sold by Sotheby’s as part of the important sale of Dr. H.A.C Gregory’s John Constable collection in July 1949. Interestingly, the paper on which it is drawn was made by Joseph Coles at Lower Wookey Mill in Somerset, which Coles ran from 1788-1833, which helps approximate the date it was drawn.  It bears a watermark that was in use between 1805-1815. It is estimated to fetch £6,000- £8,000.

The sale of British & European Fine Art including Portrait Miniatures takes place on June 19.


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