John Constable drawing returns to Colchester

A newly discovered drawing by celebrated artist John Constable (1776-1837), RA, of St Botolph’s Priory, Colchester, has been returned to the city where it was drawn and sold to the Friends of Colchester Museums for a total of £4,420 by London auction house Roseberys.

The 20 x 24cm drawing of the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory in Colchester dates to c.1808 and presumably relates to a number of other pencil sketches he made of St Botolph’s Priory in the same year. These include two smaller drawings (Graham Reynolds, ‘The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, 1996, nos 08.14 and 08.15), a larger drawing now in the Yale Center for British Art [no. B1975.2.591] (Reynolds 08.16), and a further double-sided smaller drawing which appeared at Christie’s, London, 3 July 2012, lot 127.

In the same year, Constable also took some sketches of the Church of St Mary-ad-Murum Church at Colchester and Colchester Castle (Reynolds 08.12 and 08.13). Lara L’vov-Basirov, Head of Sale, Old Master, British & European Pictures commented: “Roseberys are absolutely thrilled that this highly important, re-discovered work on paper by Constable is returning home to Colchester.”

Constable executed drawings in Colchester on a number of occasions in the first half of his career, when he was still returning to Suffolk and Essex on a regular basis to stay with his family and to continue his sketching from nature. Not only is the present work stylistically similar to Constable’s other Colchester drawings taken in 1808, his materials and technique also relate, in his use of pencil and application of stump for shading, as well as his use of thin laid paper. The watermark here corresponds to that listed in W.A. Churchill, ‘Watermarks in paper in Holland, England, France, etc. in the XVII and XVIII centuries and their interconnection’, 1935, no.415, and is possibly the same mentioned by Graham Reynolds under 08.12 (St Mary-ad-Murum), described as ‘a crown above a circle’.

While the latter was taken on 29 October, the present work apparently dates to 19 September 1808, around five weeks earlier. Philip Wise, Heritage Manager, Colchester and Ipswich Museums said: “We are delighted to acquire this very significant drawing by John Constable with funding from the Friends of Colchester Museums and the support of Roseberys. This newly discovered drawing of the Priory is taken from a slightly different viewpoint to one already in the museum’s collections and together they form an important visual record of one of the city’s oldest and most historic buildings as it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century.”