Lot 655

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John Constable RA (English, 1776-1837)
View of the back of Willy Lott's House with Log-cutter, 1814.
Inscribed upper left with the brush ‘June 1814'; and, on verso (in a later hand), ‘J. Constable [R.A.]'
Oil on canvas laid on canvas, 11 ½ x 9 5/8in. (29.2 x 24.4 cm.).
English, early 19th century, swept gilded frame inscribed on the slip "Willy Lott's House Flatford". The frame bearing a plaque inscribed with the artist's name "J. Constable" and dates "born 1776 died 1837".

*Provenance: by descent from the artist to his grandson Hugh Golding Constable (1868-1949); Leggatts by 1899 (probably no. 14, ‘Willy Lott's House, Flatford' in Catalogue of Pictures & Watercolour Drawings by John Constable R.A., Leggatt's, Nov 1899); Caroline M.G. Williams (1933-2018), probably inherited from her grandparents Frederick and Ann Williams; and from 2018, by inheritance.

**Literature: C. Peacock, John Constable; The Man and his Work, 1965, revised edition 1971, plate 26 and p.142; R. Hoozee, L'Opera Completa di Constable, 1979, no. 194; see also under G. Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, 1996, p.194 (where discussed in connection with related drawing, no 14.25, in collection of Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter).

***Acknowledgement: We are grateful to Anne Lyles, former Curator at Tate Britian and an acknowledged authority on the work of John Constable, for confirming the authenticity of this work based on first-hand inspection. Anne has kindly provided the following catalogue essay. We are also pleased to have received the endorsement of Sarah Cove ACR, FIIC, FBAPCR, accredited conservator of paintings and also an acknowledged authority on the work of John Constable. Sarah has seen the oil sketch and is fully in agreement that this is a work by John Constable. She anticipates that there would be a significant improvement to the appearance of the painting if it was cleaned.

****"This fascinating oil sketch, dated by Constable ‘June 1814' on the upper left, was last recorded in the scholarly literature on the artist in 1979, when it was catalogued by Robert Hoozee in a catalogue raisonné of the artist's work published by Rizzoli. It thus now reappears here, on the market, after a gap of over forty years.

The sketch has a firm provenance reaching as far back as the nineteenth century when it was owned by Constable's grandson, Hugh Golding Constable (1868-1949), who subsequently sold it to distinguished Fine Art dealers Leggatt Brothers. It almost certainly featured (as number 14, ‘Willy Lott's House') in Leggatt's historic exhibition mounted in their Cornhill Gallery in November 1899, the first to be devoted solely to Constable's work.

When painting in Suffolk in the early part of his career, it was Constable's regular practice to make oil sketches in the open air. It seems more than likely that this sketch was made by him directly from nature, a conclusion which his inscription on the upper left, with the date ‘June 1814', tends to support. It relates closely to a pencil sketch in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter (fig.1) which was catalogued by Graham Reynolds as ‘ A house amid trees' (G. Reynolds, Early Paintings and Drawings, no. 14.25). Both Reynolds (op.cit) and Constable scholar Ian Fleming-Williams described the farmhouse in the drawing (and thus by implication the same building in this related oil sketch, which they knew only through reproduction) as an unidentified Suffolk farmhouse (Constable: a Master Draughtsman, Dulwich Picture Gallery, 1994, see under cat. 25 and pp 136-8). However it is now clear that both drawing and oil sketch actually show Willy Lott's House, the building at Flatford which appears in two of Constable's most famous paintings, The Hay Wain, 1821 (National Gallery) and The Valley Farm, 1835 ( Tate Britain), but from an unusual angle at the back. This sketch's original title, as first recorded in the nineteenth century when owned by Hugh Golding Constable and then sold by Leggatt's, can therefore now be reinstated.

When this sketch was first reproduced in the Constable literature by Carlos Peacock (John Constable: the Man and his Work, 1965; revised edition 1971), the author described it as apparently showing a man using a pole to manoeuvre a floating branch. Peacock was presumably basing his interpretation of this figure on his reading of another oil sketch by Constable, Willy Lott's House from the Stour, c.1812-13, showing the house from the opposite side where a man adopting a similar strenuous posture is polling a ferry boat on the water through the shortcut to the mill stream, Victoria & Albert Museum (fig. 2). As Peacock himself recognised, the latter sketch closely relates to Constable's painting of The Valley Farm in Tate Britain. However, it would seem that the figure in this oil sketch is actually standing on dry land, and apparently cutting logs, perhaps from a recently felled tree". Anne Lyles.

*****The tiny hamlet of Flatford situated on the north bank of the river Stour in Suffolk is at the centre of the area now known as "Constable Country" where the great painter grew up and which provided the inspiration for much of his work. Willy Lott was a tenant farmer who lived in the house in Flatford attached to the land that he farmed. He lived there for over eighty years and spent only four nights away from the house in his whole life. For Constable the house became emblematic of the rural way of life that was so precious to him. In Edwardian times the house became known as Willy Lott's Cottage, but John Constable knew it as Willy Lott's House, as it has been renamed today.

******The English Romantic painter John Constable RA (1776-1837) was best known for his views of the English countryside particularly the area surrounding the river Stour that is known today as "Constable Country". Born in the Suffolk village of East Bergholt, he entered the Royal Academy schools in 1799 and later exhibited at the Royal Academy and Paris Salon. He made many open-air sketches and used these as the basis for his large exhibition paintings which were completed in the studio. Like many other artists, Constable was influenced by the work of Dutch 17th century painters however he moved away from the idealism expected of the period and experimented with a much freer style of representation, particularly in his studies and sketches. Along with J.M.W. Turner, Constable revolutionised landscape painting in the 19th century and had a profound effect on European artists, particularly in France. As such, Constable is regarded as a precursor of the Impressionists.

  • The painting has been wax lined and given a thick coat of varnish within the last fifty years and is in stable condition. The conservator and founder of the Constable Research Project, Sarah Cove ACR, FIIC, FBAPCR, has seen the oil sketch and anticipates that there would be a significant improvement to its appearance if it was cleaned. Her approach would be to clean the painting, removing much of the wax that it visible around the edges and on the back and potentially on the surface and remove any old retouchings. If required she would remove the painting from its lining canvas and return the oil sketch to its original structure. Sarah can be contacted at [email protected] for further information about the conservation of the painting.

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