John Constable, R.A. (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776-1837 London)
On occasion, Christie’s has a direct financial int… Read more JOHN CONSTABLE, R.A. THE LOCK FROM THE CARMEN THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA COLLECTION Constable's celebrated masterpiece The Lock, which was acquired at auction in 1990 for what was then a world record auction price for any British picture, was one of the towering masterpieces acquired by Baron and Baroness Thyssen for their Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections Trust. Having initially been loaned temporarily to the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was placed on loan to the newly founded Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, in Madrid, when it opened in 1992. The Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, which consists of the large body of works from the original collections of the Baron's father, the Baron himself, and the works that the Baron and Baroness collected throughout their marriage, was first formally shown to the public in 1996, in an exhibition entitled From Kandinsky to Canaletto, but the collection had by then grown to such an extent that this was only a partial representation of the breadth and depth of the Baron and Baroness's collecting. This exhibition, however, showed the principal thematic lines that guided the collection; it was to be selective in terms of quality of works but wide ranging chronologically and thematically. Areas of particular focus were seventeenth-century Dutch painting, eighteenth-century view painting, nineteenth-century naturalist landscape painting, nineteenth and twentieth century Spanish painting, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and the first avant-gardes of the 20th century, with a special emphasis on German Expressionism. In 1999 an extension was built to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza at the Villahermosa Palace so that the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection could be shown there alongside that of the historical Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, that had been finally acquired by the Spanish state from Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza's Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections Trust in 1993. The Baron and the Baroness were committed to exhibiting the collection widely and internationally and in 2001 Constable's Lock was one of the centrepieces of the landscape exhibition organized by the collection entitled Landscapes from Breughel to Kandinsky in honour of Baron Thyssen at the Austellungshalle in Bonn shortly before his death. Baroness Thyssen's husband Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, or 'Heini' Thyssen as he was known to his friends, followed in his father Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza's footsteps, and became one of the world's greatest art collectors. Using the enormous wealth generated from the industrial conglomerate that he had inherited from his father and worked so successfully to rebuild and diversify after the Second World War, he not only preserved and augmented the outstanding collection of Old Master pictures that his father had formed in the 1920s and 1930s, but also significantly expanded the range of the collection through his own remarkable acquisitions most particularly of the work of European and American artists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The collection that his father Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza had formed with the intention of creating a panorama of European painting from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, was outstanding not only for its scale but also for its quality. It reflected Baron Heinrich's discerning taste and his particular passion for the Early German and Netherlandish schools, fields in which his purchasesincluded such masterpieces as Hans Holbein the Younger's Portrait of Henry VIII, Albrecht Durer's Christ Among the Doctors, Jan van Eyck's Annunciation and Memling's Portrait of a Young Man. Italian pictures also appealed to him and he was able to acquire works of the calibre of Domenico Ghirlandaio's Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, Carpaccio's imposing Portrait of a Knight, of 1510, Fra Angelico's Madonna and Child, Bramantino's Risen Christ, and Caravaggio's Saint Catherine of Alexandria. His collection was largely displayed at the Villa Favorita, the seventeenth-century mansion on Lake Lugano, that he had acquired from Prince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia in 1932, to which he had added a picture gallery in 1937. On his death in 1947, the collection, consisting of some 525 works, was divided between his children. Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza's most important early decision was to preserve the historic collection that his father had built at the Villa Favorita and he devoted much of his energy over the following fifteen years to tenaciously buying back pictures that had been inherited by members of his wider family. It was not until the mid-1950s that he turned his attention to adding new works. While his first additions to the collection seemed to be guided by the parameters of his father's collection, his buying soon evolved and he both expanded and extended its range. Perhaps most notable were his acquisitions of Baroque pictures, adding an outstanding group of paintings by followers of Caravaggio. Guided principally by the quality of individual works, he augmented the collection with exceptional individual pictures some of which complemented his father's purchases such as El Greco's Annunciation, as well as buying remarkable examples of the work of artists that had not been previously represented in the collection such as Watteau and Ribera. His taste, however, was considerably more eclectic than that of his father and while he added over two hundred paintings to the existing Old Master collection, he also acquired over nine hundred more modern works which were completely outside his father's range of interest, forming a remarkable collection of nineteenth-century and twentieth-century art. This ranged from Constable's celebrated Lock to works by Jackson Pollock, with distinguished examples of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Cubist art, significant works by American nineteenth-century artists, an especially strong emphasis on the German Expressionists and painters of the School of London. Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza was himself twice painted by Lucian Freud. The Lock has been on view in Spain for the past 24 years along with the entirety of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. An initial agreement was signed with the Spanish Government in 1988, and the nineteenth-century Villahermosa Palace, in Madrid, not far from the Prado Museum, was refurbished and renamed the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. It opened in 1992, displaying over eight hundred works of art from the collections and negotiations with the Spanish Government eventually culminated with the final acquisition of the historic core of the collection for Spain in 1993. 'My picture is liked at the Academy. Indeed it forms a decided feature and its light cannot be put out, because it is the light of nature - the Mother of all that is valuable in poetry, painting, or anything else - where an appeal to the soul is required. The language of the heart is the only one that is universal - and Sterne says that he disregards all rules - but makes his way to the heart as he can. My execution annoys most of them and all the scholastic ones - perhaps the sacrifices I make for lightness and brightness is too much, but these things are the essence of landscape.' Constable writing to John Fisher of The Lock's reception at the Royal Academy, May 1824 CONSTABLE WAS ONE OF THE MOST original artistic forces to emerge in the early nineteenth century. Like that of his near contemporary Turner, the impact of his work would continue to reverberate in Britain, and internationally, long after his death. His commitment to the purity of undiluted nature as the principal theme of his work, which remained a constant over the course of his artistic development, unredeemed by any overt historical, religious or mythological references, challenged the orthodoxies of the artistic hierarchy of the day. The Lock was first exhibited in 1824, one of the most significant years in Constable's career, which saw The Hay Wain and View on the Stour exhibited to great acclaim at the Paris Salon, and the award to the artist of a gold medal by King Charles X. The artist's success in France has been seen by many art historians as having significantly influenced the course of the history of art, as his intense observation of nature inspired French artists in a movement of landscape painting that would find its fullest expression half a century later in the work of the Impressionists. Constable's sole Royal Academy exhibit of 1824, The Lock is the fifth in a celebrated series of six large-scale canvases of the Stour valley that he exhibited at the Academy between 1819 and 1825. The first of the so-called 'six foot' canvases that define his artistic maturity, these works represent a distillation of Constable's profound emotional and artistic response to the scenery of his native Suffolk that was central to his art. This series, which was to secure his professional reputation, represented a radical transition from Constable's earlier work both in the raw ambition of their scale and in the unprecedented, indirect working method that Constable adopted in order to realise his artistic vision. Among the series are several of Constable's most celebrated works, including The White Horse (1819; New York, Frick Collection), and The Hay Wain (1821; London, National Gallery). The Lock is the only picture the series to remain in private hands.
John Constable, R.A. (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776-1837 London)

The Lock

John Constable, R.A. (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776-1837 London)
The Lock
oil on canvas
56 x 47½ in. (142.2 x 120.7 cm.)
in the original gilt plaster and carved wood frame
James Morrison (1789-1857) of Balham Hill, London, and Basildon Park, Berkshire, by whom acquired for 150 guineas on the opening day of the 1824 Royal Academy exhibition, and by descent to his grandson,
Colonel James Archibald Morrison (1873-1934), at Basildon Park, until this was sold in 1929, and subsequently by inheritance through his daughter Mary, wife of Major John Dent-Brocklehurst of Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire;
The Trustees of the Walter Morrison Picture Settlement; Sotheby's, London, 14 November 1990, lot 128 (sold £10,780,000).
Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, on loan to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 1992-2012.
C.R. Leslie, Life of Constable, London, 1845, pp. 131-2.
G.F. Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain: forming a supplemental volume to the Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London, 1857, p. 302.
C.R. Leslie, with notes by R.C. Leslie, Life and Letters of John Constable, R.A., London, 1896, pp. 149 and 173, illustrated opposite p. 173.
C.J. Holmes, Constable, New York, 1901, p.18.
C.J. Holmes, Constable and His Influence on Landscape Painting, London, 1902, pp. 246-7.
Lord Windsor, John Constable, R.A., London, 1903, pp. 57, 58, 73, and 76.
A. Whitman, Samuel William Reynolds, London, 1903, pp. 12, 13, and 99, no. 347.
C.L. Hind, Constable, London, 1909, p. 71.
The Hon. A. Shirley, The Published Mezzotints of David Lucas after John Constable R.A., Oxford, 1930, p. 198, pl. 35.
The Hon. A. Shirley, John Constable R.A., London, 1948, p. 23, pl. 87.
S.J. Key, John Constable: His Life and Work, London, 1948, p. 51.
C.R. Leslie, ed. J. Mayne, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, London, 1951, pp. 115, 118, 120-2, 134, 141-2, 151, 153.
The Hon. A. Shirley, 'John Constable's Lock: The newly discovered study', Connoisseur, May 1951, pp. 71-5 and 172.
R.B. Beckett, 'Constable's Lock', Burlington Magazine, XCIV, 1952, pp. 252-6.
G. Reynolds, Constable: The Natural Painter, New York, 1965, pp. 70-3, 78, 83, 119, 142, and note to no. 41.
R.B. Beckett, ed., Constable's Correspondence, Ipswich, I, 1962, pp. 209, 211, 212; II, 1964, pp. 279, 307-8, 320-1, 323, 335, 340, 410-11; III, 1965, pp. 23, 120; IV, 1966, pp. 95, 102, 122, 129-30, 158, 180, 193, 265-9, 280, 315, 377; V, 1967, pp. 60-1, 83, 90, 179; VI, 1968, pp. 112, 114, 116, 150, 154-8, 180, 185, 191, 200 and 216.
B. Taylor, Constable, London, 1973, pp. 207-8, no. 39.
G. Reynolds, Catalogue of the Constable collection: Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1973, pp. 25, 167, 180.
R.B. Beckett, ed., Constable's Further Correspondence, Ipswich, 1975, p. 205.
A. Smart and A. Brooks, Constable and his Country, London, 1976, pp. 52, 94, 97-102, 131 and 138-9.
J.L. Fraser, John Constable, London, 1976, p. 137.
I. Fleming-Williams, Constable: Landscape Watercolours and Drawings, London, 1976, p. 92.
R. Gadney, John Constable, R.A., 1776-1837: A catalogue of drawings and watercolours with a selection of mezzotints by David Lucas after Constable for 'English landscape scenery' in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Cambridge, 1976, pp. 20, 98, 100, 108.
R. Gatty, Portrait of a Merchant Prince: James Morrison, 1789-1857, Northallerton, 1977, pp. 30 and 245.
R. Hoozee, L'opera completa di Constable, Milan, 1979, pp. 128-9, pl. 404.
J. Walker, John Constable, New York, 1979, p. 114, illustrated p. 115.
P.D. Smith, John Constable, New York, 1981, p. 53, illustrated p. 60.
M. Rosenthal, Constable: The Painter and His Landscape, 1983, pp. 151-8, pl. 190.
G. Reynolds, Constable's England, New York, 1983, pp. 72 and 78.
G. Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, London, 1984, I, pp. 133-5, no. 24.1, II, pl. 475.
I. Fleming-Williams and L. Parris, The Discovery of Constable, New York, 1984, pp. 12 and 196.
M. Cormack, Constable, Oxford, 1986, pp. 145, 148, 156-7, 167, 176-8, 182, 186, 191, pl. 154.
D. Sutton and G. Reynolds, eds., John Constable, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art, 1986, pp. 158-9.
M. Rosenthal, Constable, New York, 1987, pp. 137-40, pl. 132 and on the cover.
C. Rhynne, 'Changes in the Appearance of Paintings by John Constable', in Appearance, opinion, change: Evaluating the look of paintings, London, 1990, pp. 72-4.
I. Fleming-Williams, Constable and his Drawings, London, 1990, pp. 188-199, fig. 180.
S. Cove, 'Constable's oil painting materials and techniques', in L. Parris and I. Fleming-Williams, Constable, exhibition catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, 1991, pp. 498, 506 and 527.
J. Ivy, Constable and the Critics, 1802-1837, Suffolk, 1991, p. 146.
F. Pérez Carreño, John Constable, Madrid, 1993, pp. 86-8 and 139-40.
M. Rosenthal, 'Constable, John', in J. Turner, ed., The Dictionary of Art, London and New York, 1996, VII, pp. 753-4.
L. Eitner, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington: French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Oxford, 2000, pp. 344 and 346, illustrated.
G.T.E. Shackleford and F.E. Wiseman, Monet, Renoir and the Impressionist Landscape, exhibition catalogue, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada and Houston, The Museum of Fine Art, 2000, p. 56. fig. 18.
M. Bailey, ed., The Folio Society Book of the 100 Greatest Paintings, London, 2001, p. 136, illustrated.
J. Arnaldo, ed.,Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 2004, I, pp. 214-7, illustrated pp. 215 and 217 (detail).
G. Reynolds, 'Constable's Skies', in F. Bancroft, ed., Constable's Skies, exhibition catalogue, New York, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Norwich, 2004, pp. 22-3, illustrated.
S. Cove, 'The Painting Techniques of Constable's Six Footers', in A. Lyles, ed., Constable: The Great Landscapes, exhibition catalogue, London, Tate Britain, 2006, pp. 55, 59, 64-66.
J. Gage, 'Constable: The Big Picture', in A. Lyles, ed., Constable: The Great Landscapes, op. cit., p. 26.
A. Lyles, 'Soliciting Attention: Constable, The Royal Academy and the Critics', in A. Lyles, ed., Constable: The Great Landscapes, op. cit., pp. 36-7.
C. Rhynne, 'The Remarkable Story of the 'Six-Foot Sketches', in A. Lyles, ed., Constable: The Great Landscapes, op. cit. p. 49.
F. Kelly, 'The Lock', in A. Lyles, ed., Constable: The Great Landscapes, op. cit. p. 155.
London, Royal Academy, 1824, no. 180, as 'A Boat Passing a Lock'.
London, British Institution, Living Artists of the British School, 1825, no. 129, as 'The Lock'.
South Kensington, International Exhibition, 1862, no. 320.
London, Royal Academy, A Loan Exhibition, 1882, no. 181.
London, The Grosvenor Gallery, Loan Exhibition, 1889, no. 85.
London, The New Grosvenor Gallery, Loan Exhibition, 1914, no. 102. Manchester, City Art Gallery, British Art Exhibition, 5 April-26 May 1934, no. 84.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of British Art, 1934, no. 386.
London, Tate Gallery, Constable: Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours, 18 February-25 April 1976, no. 227.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Treasure Houses of Great Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting, 3 November 1985-16 March 1986, no. 518.
London, Tate Gallery, Constable, 13 June-15 September 1991, no. 158 (catalogue by L. Parris and I. Fleming-Williams).
New York, The Frick Collection and Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, The Spirit of the Place: Masterworks from Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, 17 September 1997-15 March 1998, no. 6 (illustrated on the cover).
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Naturalezas pintadas de Brueghel a Van Gogh: Pintura naturalista en la colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, 1 October 1999-16 January 2000, no. 44.
La Coruña, Museo de Belas Artes da Coruña, De van Goyen a Constable: Aspetos da tradición do pintoresco na colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, October-November 2000, no. 9.
Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Landschaften von Brueghel bis Kandinsky: Die Ausstellung zu Ehren des Sammlers Hans Heinrich Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, 7 September-25 November 2001, no. 43.
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Constable: Le choix de Lucian Freud, 10 October 2002-13 January 2003, no. 87.
London, Tate Britain; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; and San Marino, California, The Huntington Library, Constable: The Great Landscapes, 1 June 2006-29 April 2007, no. 41.
Samuel William Reynolds, mezzotint, 1824-5.
David Lucas, mezzotint, published by Francis Moon, 1834 (based on the replica).
A. Lucas, 1881.
H. J. Anglesy, 1885.
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Lot Essay

'Have you been down there? Have you walked from Dedham up the river to Will Lott's? Everywhere else, however wonderful, is away from there.'
Lucian Freud on John Constable, in conversation with William Feaver, 2003


Constable was born and brought up in the village of East Bergholt, in Suffolk, and the village and the surrounding countryside were to provide him with his most constant sources of artistic inspiration. This landscape was and is defined by the meandering River Stour, on which much of the local agriculture and commerce depended, and with which his own family's prosperity was closely entwined.

From its source in Cambridgeshire, the Stour flows eastwards for some fifty miles before reaching the sea. For much of its length it forms the natural boundary between Suffolk, on the left bank, and Essex, on the right. In the early eighteenth century the lower half of the river, from Sudbury to Brantham (a distance of 23½ miles), had been rendered navigable through an Act of Parliament of 1705, which led to the construction of a waterway between 1708 and 1713, in which the depth and flow of the water were controlled largely by a series of fourteen locks. By the early nineteenth century the canalised river had become a busy thoroughfare, with barges and other vessels carrying their varied cargoes both upstream and downstream through the network of locks, at which they were obliged to pay tolls based on their individual cargoes.

It was the lower stretch of the river, only a few miles from the sea, winding its way down through the locks of Stratford, St. Mary, Dedham, Flatford and Brantham, with water meadows and sloping hillsides on either bank, that became known as Dedham Vale, and which provided the backdrop to Constable's childhood, imbuing him with the deep love of nature that he was to translate into some of the most deeply felt landscapes painted in the nineteenth century.

In a letter to his close friend and mentor Archdeacon John Fisher, the nephew of Bishop Fisher of Salisbury, Constable made clear one of the central themes in his artistic life:
'I should paint my own places best - Painting is but another word for feeling. I associate my 'careless boyhood' to all that lies on the banks of the Stour. They made me a painter ...'

His choice of Flatford Lock as the subject for the fifth of his great Stour exhibits was unsurprising in this context, for there were few places with which he was more familiar. His father, Golding Constable, a prosperous corn and coal merchant, had inherited the tenancy of Flatford Mill in 1764 and also owned the mill further upstream at Dedham, and his various business interests made the canalised Stour, beside which Flatford Mill sat, a central feature of the family's daily existence. For Constable everything associated with rivers and canals held a deep emotional resonance embedded in him from childhood, as he expressed to Fisher in one of the most revealing of his letters:
' ... the sound of water escaping Mill dams ... Willows, Old rotten Banks, slimy posts, & brickwork, I love such things ... As Long as I do paint I shall never cease to paint such Places. They have always been my delight ...' (Beckett, op. cit., VI, 1968, p. 77)

Constable found Flatford Mill full of artistic possibilities. He was to paint more views of Flatford and its immediate surroundings than any other subject in his entire career. His interest in Flatford is evident from the outset, and can be seen in the sketches he made of the mill from various vantage points in and about 1810-12 (see Lyles, ed., op. cit., pp. 92-7, nos. 10-14).

In the large Stour series Constable was to project this familiar scenery onto an altogether different scale. These six works are united in both their scale and their subject matter. Stratford Mill, the second in the series, exhibited at the Academy in 1820, lies some two miles upstream of Flatford and in this respect differs from the others, which are all based on views taken from vantage points only a matter of yards from each other in the immediate vicinity of Flatford Mill.

The subject of Constable's The Lock, which he originally exhibited with the title 'A Boat passing a Lock', is the lower (i.e. downstream) gate at Flatford Lock. It is shown from a vantage point across the mill pool on the right bank near the mill house, looking westward. A barge, travelling downstream, has just entered the flooded channel between the upper and the lower gates of the lock, and is being steadied by a member of the crew who has looped a rope around a post on the bank in order to bring it to a halt, watched by a woman in a mob cap astern. In the centre of the composition, a figure who is presumably the lock-keeper, a role which included the collection of tolls due at the lock, is seen inserting a crowbar into the capstan. He simultaneously prevents it from moving by resting his knee upon it, in order to give it another turn and thereby raise the 'paddles' in the lock's gates, allowing the water to be released from the lock and into the river. While the capstan that the lock-keeper is busy operating is obscured from view by one of the vertical posts that forms part of the lock's structure, Constable has rendered its opposite number on the other side of the lock, together with the chain by which it was attached to the 'paddles' on the gate, with loving detail. On the other side of the lock, a harnessed tow-horse can be seen standing idle, together with a boy in a red cap beside a panting dog, all of whom have presumably been involved in the laborious process of towing the barge this far downstream, and are likely soon to be at work again, once the barge has passed the lock. Beyond, in the distance across brightly lit fields, very near the centre of the composition, the landscape is dominated by the tower of Dedham Church breaking the skyline.


On 23 October 1821 in a letter to Fisher, written while the artist was in Hampstead, Constable declared:
'I am most anxious to get into my London painting room, for I do not consider myself at work without I am before a six-foot canvas' (Beckett, op. cit., VI, 1968, p. 76).

The Lock was the fifth of the series of large landscapes of the Stour valley that Constable exhibited at the Royal Academy in successive years from 1819 until 1825, except 1823, when illness prevented him from producing such an ambitious work. These landscapes were the largest that Constable had yet exhibited at the Royal Academy. The idea of undertaking works on a large scale had, however, been in his mind from earlier in his career: the amateur and diarist Joseph Farington had recorded seeing a 'Lake District' scene, five feet wide, in Constable's studio in April 1809, which he intended to send to the Academy, while x-radiograph analysis of his full scale Sketch for the White Horse (Washington, National Gallery of Art), shows that beneath it lies an unfinished sketch of Dedham from Gun Hill, which is believed to date to circa 1817-8, of matching scale. But at this earlier stage in his career, Constable found himself unable to successfully translate what John Gage refered to as the 'effusive swiftness of handling' that characterised his small early sketches onto a large scale (op. cit.).

The scale of his large Stour exhibits represented a radical and ambitious departure for Constable. His decision to execute landscapes of such size was born out of his wish to elevate the 'natural scenery' to which he was so devoted onto a scale more in keeping with the achievements of the classical landscape painters that he so admired. It also arose out of his desire to achieve the professional and critical success at the Academy that had hitherto largely eluded him. Underlying these twin ambitions was a new imperative to achieve commercial success, given his recent marriage in 1816 to Maria Bicknell and the costs associated with keeping a family in London, to which he had moved that year.

In an illuminating passage from C.R. Leslie's early biography of the artist, Leslie comments of Constable that:
'No man more earnestly desired to stand well with the world; no artist was more solicitous of popularity. He had, as phrenologists would say, the love of approbation very strongly developed'.

Constable was keenly aware of the work and professional successes of his contemporaries in the British school of painters. Artists such as Augustus Wall Callcott, John Martin and Joseph Mallord William Turner had, for example, already exhibited works of monumental scale at the Royal Academy to critical acclaim, and it cannot have escaped his attention that Callcott and Turner, although close contemporaries, had already scaled the heights of professional recognition at the Academy, recognition that was such an important step on the path to critical and commercial success.

A serious student of the old masters, Constable was also aware of the precedents set by artists such as Rubens, whom he revered. Constable had been quick to take the opportunity to see the two celebrated large landscapes by Rubens that arrived in London in 1803, having been acquired from a Genoese collection: The Rainbow Landscape and A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning (now London, Wallace Collection; and London, National Gallery) as Joseph Farington recorded (Diary, 1793-1821, K. Garlick et al., eds., New Haven and London, 1978-1984, VI, p. 2239).

Constable made his admiration of Rubens's work explicit in the lecture he gave on landscape painting at the British Institution towards the end of his career in 1836, in which he praised the 'freshness and dewy light' and the 'joyous and animated character' which Rubens was able to instil into his landscapes 'impressing on Flanders all the richness which belongs to its noblest features', and particularly referred to the Genoese pictures (Gage, op. cit., p. 22).

Scale was also an important factor when considering how to achieve success in the specific context of the exhibitions held annually at the Royal Academy, from its foundation in 1768. These exhibitions provided the principal forum by which living artists could hope for their work to attain the attention and patronage to sustain them in their chosen profession. Constable's series of so-called 'six-foot' canvases reflected his practical realisation that, in order to compete in this particular arena, the scale of a work was an important factor in coming to the attention of the Academy establishment, critics and potential buyers alike.

The positive critical reaction received by The White Horse (New York, Frick Collection), the first 'six-foot' canvas that Constable exhibited at the Royal Academy, in 1819 (which was bought by Fisher), and which was followed so swiftly by his long hoped-for election as an Associate that year, no doubt reinforced Constable's perception that he could elevate his status as an artist and thereby increase his chances of achieving commercial success by continuing to paint on a large scale despite the strain and extra cost that bringing together compositions on such a scale entailed.

Following the success of The White Horse, Constable exhibited five more 'six-foot' canvases of the Stour: Stratford Mill (1820; London, National Gallery), The Hay Wain (1821; London, National Gallery), View on the Stour (1822; San Marino, California, The Huntington Library), The Lock (1824, the only one of the series to be of vertical rather than horizontal format) and finally The Leaping Horse (1825; London, Royal Academy).

Constable's celebrated 'six-footers', of which the series of Stour landscapes were the first, represented a departure for the artist not only in terms of their scale but also in terms of the complex artistic process which he developed in order to meet the demands of such large compositions. The success of these landscapes is closely connected to this change of approach.

In the development of each of these pictures, Constable worked much less directly from the landscape that provided the original inspiration for each of the compositions than he had in his earlier works, working instead through the prism of full-scale sketches, worked up in his London studio, which were of a matching scale to the finished pictures themselves. This unprecedented working process may partly have been a reaction to the difficulties of working directly from nature on such a grand scale, particularly now that Constable was living in London. But, more importantly, it seems to have reflected a conscious decision to approach the scenery of his native Suffolk from a new perspective.

The full-scale sketches that were so fundamental to the process allowed Constable to explore his compositions with complete freedom, focusing on the essential elements of each picture without yet having to devote attention to the pictorial finish of the works.

As the art historian Kenneth Clark observed:
'The boldness and freedom of touch were partly a means of rendering effects of light, and partly a means of expressing emotion: and it was only possible to conserve the original emotion on this scale if he felt free from all anxieties of finish and logical composition. The full-size sketches were not so much dress rehearsals as emotional discharges which allowed him to attack his final canvas without a feeling of frustration' (John Constable: The Hay Wain in the National Gallery, London, 1944, p. 8).

Analysis of the sketches in relation to their matching finished pictures reveals much about the way in which Constable's ideas for each of the compositions developed. This unprecedented process and the resultant sketches have been regarded by some art historians as Constable's greatest contribution to landscape art' (Gage, op. cit., p. 25). However, as Gage comments, he did not regard his sketches as saleable works; they were simply aids to picture-making. The artist makes his attitude to sketches as opposed to 'finished' works abundantly clear in a letter he wrote to Fisher à propos a copy of a Claude he was making in 1823: 'in a sketch there is nothing but the one state of mind - that which you were in at the time', commenting that such a sketch 'would not serve to drink at again and again'. (Beckett, op. cit., VI, 1968, p. 142).


The full-scale sketch for The Lock, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is painted on canvas, on the reverse of which is a sketch for the head of a girl, suggesting that it was an abandoned canvas now reused (Reynolds, 1984, op. cit., no. 24.3). It is boldly handled, with the forms laid in largely with the use of a palette knife, indicating that it was always intended as a sketch and never as something that could be finished for exhibition.

It is not clear exactly when Constable first conceived of The Lock but there are several clues in his extensive correspondence. Constable first specifically mentions a 'Lock' in a letter to Fisher dated 12 December 1823, in which he discusses his future plans:
'I am settled, for the exhibition ... my Waterloo must be done and one other perhaps one of Tinney's Dedhams but more probably my Lock' (Beckett, op. cit., VI, 1968, p. 146).

However, it is also thought likely that he was referring to either the sketch for The Lock or the picture itself, in an earlier letter to Fisher dated 21 February 1823:
'I have put a large upright Landscape in hand, and I hope I shall hold up to get it ready for the Academy' (Beckett, op. cit., 1968, VI, p. 101).

This hypothesis appears to be supported by the surprising paucity of information that he gave to Fisher regarding the 'Lock' that he mentions in his letter of 12 December 1823. Given that it was such an important composition, this would seem to imply that Constable and Fisher had already discussed it at some prior stage, perhaps when they were together in Gillingham.

The first specific reference Constable makes to working on a 'Lock' of upright format is in another of his letters to Fisher, dated 17 January 1824:
'I am about my upright lock' (Becket, op. cit., VI, 1968, p. 150).

If Constable's letter to Fisher of 21 February 1823 is the earliest reference to the artist working on an upright 'Lock', close study of the Philadelphia sketch indicates that Constable had begun working on the subject sometime before then. Analysis of the sketch shows that Constable had originally conceived of the subject in horizontal rather than upright format, but at some point altered the composition into a vertical format by adding a strip of canvas of some 11 inches to the upper edge of the original canvas and by cutting down the right edge of the canvas by as much as 6 inches (Cove, op. cit.). Whatever the precise chronology of his working method, by 15 April 1824 Constable had evidently completed the finished picture and sent it to the Royal Academy for exhibition, as a letter that day to Fisher makes clear:
'I was never more fully bent on any picture than on that which you left me engaged upon - It is gone to its audit with all its deficiencies in hand - my friends all tell me it is my best. Be that as it may I have done my best. It is a good subject and an admirable instance of the picturesque' (Beckett, op. cit., V, 1967, p. 155).

Constable's title for the picture at the Royal Academy exhibition was 'A boat passing a lock', a generalised rather than a topographical title, in common with the majority of the other large Stour pictures that he exhibited at the Academy, with which he presumably hoped to avoid the innate prejudice against works thought by the hanging committee to be topographical.

The dominant motif of The Lock, with the lock-keeper working the capstan in his red waistcoat in order to release water from the lock and thereby allow the barge to continue downstream, is an idea that Constable had already included, as a small background detail, in an unfinished oil sketch of Dedham Lock and Mill, circa 1816-17 (Lyles, ed., op. cit., no. 23), which he later relied on when working up three different versions of that subject. Lock-keepers at the lower lock gates at Flatford, although in different positions and in different poses, had also appeared in an entirely incidental way in some of Constable's much earlier smaller outdoor sketches of Flatford Lock (see for example Lyles, ed., op. cit., nos. 10-13). In his Dedham Lock and Mill the lock-keeper at work appears as an incidental detail in a wider composition. By contrast, in The Lock Constable elevates the figure of the lock-keeper into the central focus of his composition, transforming him into a heroic figure. In this The Lock reflects one of the distinctive characteristics of his series of Stour paintings, in which the narrative element is given much greater emphasis than had been the case in his earlier works. Constable's decision to transform the format of The Lock from horizontal to vertical (and The Lock is the only one of his large Stour series to be of vertical format), must have been influenced strongly by his desire to give more prominence to the vertical accent of the lock-keeper.

The way in which Constable developed his initial idea, at first conveyed rapidly in the Philadelphia sketch, gives an insight into the complex creative process at play in his large landscapes. In the Philadelphia sketch the central figure working the lock is shown in much the same pose as the similar figure in the Dedham Lock and Mill, hunched forward, with both feet on the ground. Yet Constable clearly considered this pose to be insufficiently commanding for the centre of the finished composition, in which this figure would be the dominant human element. In altering the pose of the figure between the sketch and the finished picture, Constable seems to have referred to an Academy study that he had made much earlier in his career, which provided him, in reverse, with a much more imposing figure - one which could be translated into the lock-keeper with his knee on the capstan (Parris and Fleming-Williams, 1991, op. cit., fig. 79). Constable's stock of sketches and studies provided him with a constant source of reference upon which he was to draw regularly in his creative process. As Franklin Kelly notes:
'In the [full-scale] sketch the man's hands are placed at the exact centre of the canvas, and his arms are aligned precisely on the diagonal between the top and the bottom right hand corners. They thus establish a dramatic vertical vector of sight within the composition. A countering lateral movement is established by the diagonal of the canal running from right to left, while the exertion of the man on the barge creates a contrasting torque to the energies of the man at the lock' (F. Kelly, op. cit., p. 153).

While the central figure of the composition was developed from Constable's earlier Dedham Lock and Mill, the lock that Constable chose as the central element of the composition was not that at Dedham but the lower lock at Flatford. X-radiograph photography of the Philadelphia sketch shows that Constable originally painted horizontal beams spanning the lock but later decided to eliminate this feature. These beams, which helped to support the wooden walls of the lock, were present in reality and can be seen both in Constable's recently discovered Flatford Lock from the Mill House of circa 1814 (private collection; Lyles, ed., op. cit., no. 16) and in the distance of his Flatford Mill of 1817 (Lyles, ed., op. cit., no. 19). Constable's decision to eliminate from the Philadelphia sketch the beams that were an essential part of the structure of the lower lock, and to exclude them from his subsequent pictures, seems to have been taken for entirely aesthetic reasons and was presumably due to a realisation that they formed an unnecessary distraction from what he conceived as the focal points of the picture: the lower lock itself, with the lock-keeper hard at work, and Dedham Church on the horizon.

A drawing in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, which shows Flatford Lock with all but the first of the lintels that spanned it removed and the remaining one set at an unnatural angle (presumably in order to avoid it merging with the horizon line), was considered by Parris and Fleming-Williams possibly to represent Constable's earliest thoughts on the subject. They commented that it 'is interesting to note that the man at the lock-gate in the drawing has one knee on the capstan, as in the upright 'Lock' of 1824, yet is barefoot' in his later variant of the subject, given to the Royal Academy (see Parris and Fleming-Williams, 1991, op. cit., p. 290).

Constable was delighted with the finished picture, and a letter that he wrote to Fisher after the picture had been bought in the Academy exhibition and was back in his studio to be engraved, gives a sense of his satisfaction with its success and with the natural effect he felt he had done justice to:
'My Lock is now on my easel ... It looks most beautifully silvery, windy & delicious - it is all health - & the absence of everything stagnant, and is wonderfully got together after only this one year'.

The picture certainly shows Constable's complete mastery of his medium by this stage in his career, exuding the depth of his understanding and feeling for the scene that he chose as his subject. His technique, although less broad than in the Philadelphia sketch, retains its boldness and expressive force. As Anne Lyles has observed 'he seems to have been less concerned to create a pristine surface on the finished canvas. For not only does The Lock have some remarkable passages of free and vigorous brushwork, but, as Sarah Cove has noted, it is the first of Constable's large exhibited pictures (as opposed to full-scale sketches) in which his use of the palette knife can be detected'.
(A. Lyles, 'The Large River Stour Paintings', in A. Lyles, ed., Constable: The Great Landscapes, op. cit., pp. 129-130).


The Lock was an unparalleled success for Constable when he exhibited it at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1824 and was well-received by the critics. In the Advanced Academy Notice in the Morning Post for 13 April, a critic wrote:
'Mr Constable contributes a landscape composition which for depth, sparkling light, freshness and vigorous effect, exceeds any of his works'.

It was also received well by the reviewer from the Literary Gazette, who remarked on:
'The skill with which this artist, in a style peculiar to himself, effects the most perfect representation of the objects of his study whether of foreground or of distance and that In none of his former works have these essential qualities been more distinctly visible than in this picture'

Constable was clearly encouraged by its reception at the Academy, as he expressed to Fisher, writing in May 1824:
'My picture is liked at the Royal Academy. Indeed it forms a decided feature and its light cannot be put out, because it is the lighte of nature - the Mother of all that is valuable in poetry, painting or anything else where an appeal to the soul is required. The language of the heart is the only one that is universal ...'

Later on in the same letter he noted, however, no doubt in reaction to the ambivalence towards his technique on the part of some critics, that:
'My execution annoys most of them and all the scholastic ones perhaps the sacrifices I make for lightness and brightness is too much, but these things are the essence of landscape'

Uniquely for Constable The Lock also sold on opening day of the exhibition, to the wealthy businessman and collector James Morrison, who was finally to take delivery of the picture only after Samuel Reynolds had been given access to it in Constable's studio in order to engrave it, and it had been exhibited at the important loan exhibition Living Artists of the English School in May 1825, where its title was given as 'The Lock'.


Reflecting the success of the theme, Constable executed a replica and two horizontal variants of The Lock. The replica was probably executed by Constable in order to facilitate an engraving of the subject by Samuel Reynolds's pupil David Lucas, but also to have a version of his most successful subject that he could exhibit and hope to sell in the wake of the success that had greeted the original. Aside from this he also painted two variants of horizontal format: one in the Royal Academy of Arts, London and another in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (Reynolds, 1984, op. cit., nos. 26.15 and 26.16).

The Replica

Constable executed a replica of The Lock seemingly at the time he retrieved the original from S.W. Reynolds's unsuccessful attempts to produce a mezzotint of the subject (private collection; Reynolds, 1984, op. cit., I, p. 164, no. 25.33, II, pl. 603).

This is thought to correspond to Constable's references, made in a letter written to Fisher circa 26 November 1825, to a 'half-length of a lock in hand' (Beckett, op. cit., VI, 1968, p. 211); and again in a letter to his wife on 28 November 1825: 'I am now finishing a copy of my lovely Lock, which rejoices me a good deal it is a very lovely subject' (Beckett, op. cit., II, 1964, p. 415). It has been suggested by Parris and Fleming-Williams that this autograph copy, which remained in Constable's possession until his death, is the picture which Constable lent to the Brussels exhibition of 1833 and the Worcester exhibition of 1834. They have also suggested that the picture may have been started by John Dunthorne, with the finishing touches applied by Constable, on the basis of a statement made by the engraver David Lucas (Beckett, 1975, op. cit., p. 58). On the other hand, Reynolds notes that a reference in Constable's journal for 6 December 1825, in which he writes, 'John has done all he can to his large Lock', can be taken to imply that Dunthorne had completed a copy entirely of his own, distinct from the replica on which Constable himself had been at work nine days earlier (Reynolds, 1984, op. cit., no. 25.33).

The Royal Academy picture

Constable's variant of The Lock now in the Royal Academy, which is signed and dated 1826, is of smaller dimensions than the present picture (40 x 50 in.). It was originally painted for the bookseller James Carpenter, but was later taken back by Constable and given by him to the Royal Academy as his Diploma piece, finally sealing his election as a Royal Academician.

It differs from the present picture in several significant ways. Of horizontal format, the wider composition includes a view upstream from the lower lock that takes in the upper lock at Flatford and beyond it Old Flatford Bridge. The narrative content is also substantially different. Instead of a barge in the channel of the lock going downstream, a smaller vessel, this time with a sail that has just been lowered, is seen on its way upriver, being made fast to one of the timbers at the entrance of the lock so that it will not be carried away when the water above is released. A rather different figure is also shown working the lock, who now seems less like a formal lock-keeper but more like a boatman, as is suggested by the fact that he is shown barefooted. By contrast to the trees in the present picture, in the Royal Academy variant the trees on the far bank are shown upstream in the middle distance, in a position that corresponded more closely with their position in reality, as comparison with the sketch drawing in the Fitzwilliam Museum makes clear - and these are now clearly two willows (Reynolds, 1984, op. cit., 26.14).

Constable appears to have begun work on the picture in 1825 but not to have completed it until 1826 (the year it is dated). Nevertheless, he borrowed it from Carpenter in order to make some adjustments to it in 1828. On 29 February 1829, shortly after Carpenter had taken repossession of the picture, Constable achieved a long-held ambition with his election as a Royal Academician. In order for him to take formal possession of his Diploma, however, the Academy's rules required that he present a work of sufficient merit to gain the approval of the Council. Although he had other major works available to him, Constable clearly felt that the horizontal variant of The Lock that Carpenter had commissioned best reflected his achievements, and he came to an arrangement whereby Carpenter allowed his picture to go to the Academy in return for Constable's promise of a replacement of similar size, to be painted by June 1830, underwritten by a deposit of 100 guineas, and another of 'A Heath'.

The National Gallery of Victoria picture

This horizontal variant, which only came to light in 1950, and is unsigned, is compositionally similar to the Royal Academy variant, and of similar dimensions (40 x 51 in.). The scene is very similar to the Royal Academy variant, with a similarly widened perspective, and likewise incorporates the upper lock and the bridge. An almost identical barge is shown heading upstream before the lower lock gate with an almost identical figure in it. In terms of detail, the lock itself is similarly described; of the differences, the inclusion of a dog turning to look upstream in the Royal Academy variant is the most significant. However, in terms of handling the Melbourne picture appears unfinished by comparison. In 1976 this led Parris, Fleming-Williams and Conal Shields to suggest that it was likely to be an unfinished replica of the Royal Academy picture. In 1991 Fleming-Williams and Parris outlined a further possibility that it might be an abandoned attempt at a picture preceding the Academy picture, or even the present picture (1991, op. cit., no. 159). As they comment, 'The Philadelphia sketch was originally a horizontal composition. Could [the Melbourne picture] have been a first-stage development of the subject after the experimental [Philadelphia Sketch]?' (op. cit., p. 289).


James Morrison (1789-1857), who acquired The Lock at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1824, was an outstanding collector. The son of an innkeeper, in 1809 he had begun to work as a shopman for a firm of wholesale haberdashers, and in 1814 married his employer's daughter. The turnover of Todd & Co., of which he took over the sole direction, increased dramatically. He also invested in many other business enterprises and his acumen in such spheres was shown by his success in cornering the market in black crêpe at the time of the death of George III's widow Queen Charlotte in 1821. His interest in the arts owned much to his friendship with the architect John Papworth, who was to remodel Morrison's four houses in turn: Balham Hill, No. 95 Upper Harley Street, Fonthill, and, not least, Basildon, the house built by John Carr (of York) for Sir Francis Sykes in 1776-1783, which Morrison bought in 1838 for £97,000. Soon after buying The Lock he told Papworth: 'If I get very good things I shall become attached to the arts, if not I shall desert them for another hobby' (Gatty, op. cit., p. 249). He was not to desert the arts: he became a friend of David Wilkie and Charles Lock Eastlake, and later the partner of the dealer William Buchanan, whose taste was in fact less rigorous than Morrison's own - for the latter had an almost unerring eye.

The Lock was Morrison's first major purchase, and subsequently he bought English pictures sporadically; it was not until 1831 that he acquired his first old master, a work by Claude. Like other collectors of his generation, he was careful to segregate English pictures from his old masters. When Waagen visited Basildon, the Hall housed a collection of classical antiquities but was dominated by Turner's large Thomson's Aeolian Harp (Manchester, City Art Gallery). The Constable and other modern English pictures were in the Octagon, the great room designed by Carr, whose scheme for its decoration was never completed and which at length was fitted up as a picture room by Papworth with an Italianate ceiling and wall coverings of purple velvet. Its erstwhile companions included Hogarth's Punch Club, landscapes by Richard Wilson and Wilkie's Confessional, which Morrison ordered when in Rome in 1827, as well as Turner's Pope's Villa (sold Sotheby's, London, 9 July 2008, lot 91). Many of Morrison's Dutch pictures, including works by Paulus Potter, Karel Du Jardin, Aert van de Neer, Meindert Hobbema and Ostade, were in the Oak Room, while the School Room could boast Greuze's chalk study for the head of the father in La Bénédiction (Paris, Louvre). Other old masters remained in Morrison's London house; these included masterpieces of the calibre of Claude's Adoration of the Golden Calf (Manchester, City Art Gallery), Poussin's Triumph of Pan (London, National Gallery) and Rembrandt's Hendrickje Stoffels (London, National Gallery), one of the most outstanding works in the collection of Edward Gray of Haringay, which Morrison and Buchanan bought en bloc for £15,000 in 1838.


On James Morrison's death, The Lock was inherited by his grandson Colonel James Morrison at Basildon Park, in whose family's possession it remained until it was sold at auction in 1990. In the sale The Lock achieved a world record price at auction for any British work of art, breaking the record previously set with the sale of Turner's Seascape, Folkestone in 1984, which had made £7.37 million.

Constable and his heirs

Although by the 1820s Constable was beginning to make his mark in London, it was in France that the revolutionary nature of his work was first recognised. When Théodore Géricault saw The Hay Wain at the Royal Academy in 1821, he was - as Eugène Delacroix later recalled - 'quite stunned'. When the same picture, together with View on the Stour and a small picture of Yarmouth Jetty, were exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1824, they caused a sensation, the great writer Marie-Henri Beyle, better known by his pen name Stendhal, remarking: 'We have never seen anything like these pictures before. It is their truthfulness that is so striking. We have nothing to equal them.' Years later, in 1858, Delacroix would recall the Paris exhibition in a letter to Théophile Silvestre: 'I have already told you about him [Constable] and of the impression that he produced on me at the moment when I was painting The Massacre of Scio', adding that Constable, like Turner, was a true reformer.

From Corot to the Barbizon School painters, from Courbet to the Impressionists, Constable's ruthless pursuit of truth inspired a long line of French artists. Monet and Pissarro admired and studied his work while in London in 1870, and Constable's influence on the Impressionists was recorded contemporaneously by Louis-Edmond Duranty. In La Nouvelle Peinture, one of the first essays written in favour of the new movement which would revolutionise painting, published in 1876 at the time of the second Impressionist exhibition at the Durand-Ruel gallery, Duranty wrote:

On peut appliquer à ce monde quelques-unes des curieuses et belles pensées de Constable, que certains des nôtres peuvent répéter avec lui: "Je sais que l'exécution de mes peintures est singulière, mais j'aime cette règle de Sterne: Ne prenez aucun souci des dogmes des écoles, et allez droit au coeur comme vous pourrez.
On pensera ce que l'on voudra de mon art, ce que je sais, c'est que c'est vraiment le mien.
Deux routes peuvent conduire à la renommée; la première est l'art d'imitation, la seconde est l'art qui ne relève que de lui-même, l'art original."

Three years earlier, in 1873, van Gogh, writing from London to his brother Theo, observed 'English art didn't appeal to me much at first, one has to get used to it. There are some good painters here, though, [...]. Moreover, among the old painters, Constable, a landscape painter who lived around 30 years ago, whose work is splendid.'

The passionate and attentive observation of the surrounding world that Constable made the mission of his career became a key touchstone for artists of later generations committed to a direct, intense and unencumbered appreciation of nature in all its beauty. As Lucian Freud put it at the time of the exhibition 'Constable: Le Choix de Lucian Freud', held at the Grand Palais in Paris, 2002-03, 'I may be quite wrong, but I can't see Van Gogh's Boots without Constable behind them. I don't mean it's an immediate link but, to me, that kind of interest, observation and indulgence are things that exist in Constable.'

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