The present watercolour, dateable to circa 1831-2, is an exciting rediscovery, its existence only previously known from Finden's engraving (see Fig. 1). Commissioned as the basis of a steel engraving, Constable has used relatively detailed, small-scale imagery, while the almost rough, impressionistic treatment of the figures and the sunlit details of the castle confirm its late date.
Constable visited Warwick in 1809 when he was staying at Malvern Hall with his patron Henry Grewalde Lewis (he visited Malvern Hall again, in 1821; see Reynolds, op. cit., pp. 60-1, no. 20.70). Constable's watercolour is based on a long panoramic drawing executed in 1809 and now in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (see Fig. 2); other drawings show individual towers of the castle from above it (G. Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London, 1996, pp. 133-4, nos. 09.30, 09.28-9 respectively, illustrated pl. 765, 761-2). The fact that the present watercolour was executed for an engraving and was also based on a drawing executed over twenty years previously shows Constable working very much in the same vein as Turner was accustomed to do: using a sketch executed much earlier and designed specifically for publication.
This watercolour may be the same Warwick Castle that Constable lent to John Martin three years earlier, in 1830, with the intention of having it engraved by Finden, but at that time the engraver did not consider Constable's style suitable for this form of line engraving (see Beckett, loc. cit.). The artist recalled the work so that it could be engraved in mezzotint for his English Landscape Scenery, but this never happened. It would seem more likely that Constable began again and the present watercolour is not the same work. It is possible that Finden's previous reservations with regard to the suitability of Constable's style for translation into a steel engraving led to the unusual degree of detail already noted, making it better suited to the new medium. The dog, absent in the 1809 drawing may have been added to enhance the print's popular appeal.
The present drawing would not appear to have been included in Constable's sales and was possibly retained by the printers. It descended through the family from the great Holbrook Gaskell collection, formed in the 19th century, and one of the finest collections of paintings in the north of England. It included works by artists such as Constable, Turner, Gainsborough, Bonington and Cox and early British Portraits. The collection was sold in these Rooms, 24 & 25 June 1909 and 11 June 1920, although the present drawing was not included in either sale.