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Property from the Estate of Lowry Smathers, Vero Beach, Florida

A park glade, with Dedham Church beyond

A park glade, with Dedham Church beyond
oil on canvas
11 ½ x 9 in. (29.2 x 20.9 cm.)
The artist, and by descent to his daughter,
Isabel Constable (1823-1888), London; her sale, Christie's, London, 17 June 1892, lot 219, to the following,
with Leggatt Bros., London.
Anonymous sale [Property of a Gentleman]; Sotheby's, New York, 11 April 1984, lot 37.
G. Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London, 1996, pp.139, no. 9.69, pl. 800.

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Lot Essay

John Constable grew up surrounded by the villages, fields, hills and riverbanks of Dedham Vale on the Suffolk-Essex border. The landscape instilled in him a deep love of nature and served as a constant source of artistic inspiration that he translated into some of his most deeply felt works. This charming oil sketch is typical of Constable’s obsessive observation of the landscape of his childhood. From an elevated view point, the viewer is invited to take a seat at the bench, looking down over autumnal parkland towards the village of Dedham, with the tower of the church breaking above the horizon. The church, with its 130-foot tower, punctuated the skyline of many of the artist’s views of the Vale.

The work is executed with loose brushwork characteristic of the oil sketches Constable completed en plein air. Shifting from smaller dabs and touches in the landscape to deft, broader strokes in the sky, Constable maps out the landscape with his brush. The trees framing the composition, the diffused bands of light and dark and the hazy light on the horizon are all reminiscent of Claude Lorrain’s work, an artist Constable cited as having left an enduring influence on his painting.

Constable made his first oil sketches in 1802, painting views of similar landscapes to the present work (see for example a view of Dedham Vale in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, inv. no. 124-1888). It was not until around 1809 that Constable started sketching en plein air again, the same year which Reynolds dates the present work (Reynolds, op. cit.). Sketches like this one were not produced for exhibition or as preparatory works for larger finished paintings; they are highly personal records of the landscape around him. The artist's sketches are recognised as having a major impact on many European artists of the nineteenth century, including Eugene Delacroix, the Barbizon school of artists and even the French Impressionists, who were inspired by Constable’s direct response to nature.

1809 was also the year in which Constable and Maria Bicknell (1788-1828), the grand-daughter of the rector of the artist’s local church, fell in love. The couple later married in 1816, and had seven children. The present work passed to their last surviving daughter, Isabel Constable (1823-1888), who bequeathed the remaining contents of her father’s studio, comprising 395 oil paintings, sketches, drawings, watercolours and sketchbooks to the Victoria and Albert Museum, upon her death in 1888. This painting stayed in the family collection until it was sold at Christie’s in 1892.

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