John Constable, R.A. (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776-1837 London)
John Constable, R.A. (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776-1837 London)

Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s garden

John Constable, R.A. (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776-1837 London)
Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s garden
indistinctly dated ’22 July 182 [0]’ (upper left) and with inscription and date ‘Salisbury July 22nd 1820’ (on the mount)
4¾ x 7 in. (12 x 17.8 cm.)
Charles Golding Constable.
Mrs A. M. Constable.
Captain Constable (†); Christie’s, London, 11 July 1887, lot 17 (4 ½ gns to Shepherd Brothers) where purchased by
Lord Feversham, and by descent to the present owner.

G. Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, London, 1996, p. 241, no. 20.22, pl. 1379.
London, South Kensington Museum, 1880-3, no. 97.
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, on loan, 2012-13.

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Lot Essay

The present detailed study depicts the south-east view of Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s garden with the Chapter House in front. It was executed during Constable’s third visit to Salisbury, when he and his family accepted a long standing invitation to stay with his friend Archdeacon John Fisher for about seven weeks during July and August 1820. During this visit Constable sketched and painted Salisbury and its surroundings including Stonehenge and Old Sarum ceaselessly.

Constable clearly had a deep and abiding interest in Salisbury Cathedral and its surrounding countryside. Apart from his native East Anglia and East Bergholt in particular, no other part of England was depicted more frequently by the artist.

He stayed in the city on at least seven separate occasions between 1811 and 1829 either as a guest of Dr John Fisher (1748 – 1825), the Bishop of Salisbury or his nephew, also John (1788 – 1832), who served as his uncle’s chaplain. Constable had first met Dr Fisher in about 1796-7, when the latter was Rector of Langham, a village about five miles from East Bergholt. He met the younger John Fisher during his first visit to Salisbury in 1811 and the two men became firm friends.

A little over twenty years prior to Constable’s first visit in 1811, Shute Barrington (1734 – 1826), the then Bishop, had employed James Wyatt (1746-1813) to undertake extensive alterations to the fabric of the Cathedral as well as to its immediate surroundings. Between 1789 and 1792, Wyatt simplified the interior of the cathedral including removing much of the medieval decoration as well as clearing the graves and levelling the churchyard, demolishing two porches and the chantry chapels of the Hungerford and Beauchamp families at the east end of the Cathedral as well as what remained of the bell tower. The alterations caused such outrage that they became one of the catalysts for the movement to preserve ancient monuments, rather than allow them to be at risk from current fashion or whim. Constable must have been aware of these alterations and the surrounding controversy when he first visited the Cathedral. It is interesting that this drawing like so many of Constable’s works show the Cathedral surrounded by trees and shrubs rather than in the clear expanse created by Wyatt.

Constable’s interest in the architecture of the Cathedral is evident, however, he was as interested in its surroundings and would have had no compunction in cutting off parts of the building, such as here, in order to capture the exact view he wanted. In the present work the conifer, which is also chopped off at the top, appears to rise up almost as high as the cathedral, humanizing and domesticating the soaring architecture. It also serves to remind the viewer that Constable felt that one was drawn closer to God through the exploration of landscape and the opportunity to include such a majestic tree alongside such a manmade symbol, must have held especial appeal to the artist.

There is a pencil drawing showing Salisbury Cathedral from the south east (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) (fig. 1.), which also has the top of the spire chopped off. Another view entitled Salisbury Cathedral from over the close wall (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), is in fact principally a landscape, where trees dominate and the Cathedral spire has been relegated to a glimpse over the trees in the far left hand corner.


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