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

A winter landscape with with figures on a path, a footbridge and windmills beyond

John Constable, R.A. (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776-1837 Hampstead)
A winter landscape with with figures on a path, a footbridge and windmills beyond
inscribed 'Ruisdael' (lower right)
inscribed on the stretcher 'Copied from the Original Picture by Ruisdael in the possession of Sir Robt Peel Bt by me John Constable RA at Hampstead Sep. 1832 P.S. color (...) Dog added (...) only (...) Size of the Original (...) and Showed this pictures to Dear John Dunthrone Octr 30 1832 (...) this was the last time I (...)' and further inscribed 'Poor J Dunthorne died on Friday (all Saints) the 2d of November. 1832-at 4 o clock in the afternoon Aged 34 years.'
oil on canvas, unlined
22 x 28 1/8 in. (55.8 x 71.4 cm.)
The artist's sale; Foster's, London, 15-16 May 1838, lot 45.
Edward Gambier Howe, by 1902.
H.G. Howe Will Trust.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 21 March 2002, lot 69.
with Noortman, Maastricht, where purchased by the present owner.
R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's discourses, Suffolk, 1970, pp. 63-4.
L. Parris, C. Shields and J. Fleming-Williams, ed., John Constable: Further Documents and Correspondence, London, 1975, pp. 61 and 334.
R. Hoozee, L'Opera Completa di Constable, Milan, 1979, p. 84.
G. Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven, 1984, p. 242, no. 32.42, pl. 854.
M. Cormack, Constable: 1776-1837, Oxford, 1986, p. 220.
J. Nash, 'In the memory of John Constable: Constable and the tradition of landscape painting', in Constable and Wivenhoe Park. Reality and Vision, Essex, 2000, pp. 41-3, no. 25.
S. Slive, Jacob Ruisdael, Master of Light, exhibition catalogue, London, 2005, p. 35, fig. 45.
London, Tate Gallery, John Constable, 18 February-25 April 1976, no. 292.
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Jacob van Ruisdael, Master of Landcape, 23 October 2005-5 February 2006, no. 43.

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Lot Essay

Constable painted this copy of a winter landscape by Jacob van Ruisdael in September 1832. On 4 September he told his friend (and biographer) C. R. Leslie of his intention to spend a week in Hampstead 'to copy the winter piece - for which my mind seems in a fit state', this last comment a reference to his grief at the death of his friend John Fisher on 25 August. Constable borrowed Sir Robert Peel's painting by Ruisdael (now in the John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Further evidence of the artist's distraught state of mind can be found on the painting's stretcher on which Constable wrote a long inscription noting the death just two months later of another friend, John Duntmore, aged 34 years.

Constable admired Ruisdael and particularly valued his ability to interpret weather conditions in a natural fashion, a great concern in Constable's own art. In the winter scene belonging to Robert Peel, Constable recognized that it captured a specific meteorological moment: the wind was turning (indicated by the position of the windmills) and a morning thaw was imminent.

Constable's copy is so accurate that according to Lucas's annotated copy of C.R. Leslie's Life of Constable, Robert Peel insisted the artist make some change to it to distinguish it from the original, hence the addition of the dog behind the principal figure.

In his third lecture before the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 9 June 1836, Constable remarked: 'The landscapes of Ruisdael present the greatest possible contrast to those of Claude, showing how powerfully, from the most opposite directions, genius may command our homage. In Claude's pictures, with scarcely an exception, the sun ever shines. Ruisdael, on the contrary, delighted in, and has made delightful to our eyes, those solemn days, peculiar to his country and ours, when without storm, large strolling clouds scarcely permit a ray of sunlight to break the shades of the forest. By these effects he enveloped the most ordinary scenes in grandeur.'

He illustrated the lecture with the present copy of Ruisdael's landscape, and he further commented: 'This picture represents an approaching thaw. The ground is covered with snow, and the trees are still white; but there are two windmills near the centre; the one has the sails furled, and is turned in the position from which the wind blew when the mill left off work; the other has the canvas on the poles, and is turned another way, which indicates a change in wind. The clouds are opening in that direction, which appears in the glow in the sky to be the south (the sun's winter habitation in our hemisphere), and this change will produce a thaw before the morning. The concurrence of these circumstances shows that Ruisdael understood what he was painting. He has here told a story.'

Constable deliberately positions Ruisdael as his antecedent with regard to his own artistic principals and interests, using his copy of Ruisdael's landscape as his exemplar. While he admired Ruisdael's clear-eyed rendering of natural meteorological phenomena, the painting's emotional and psychological power also deeply affected him, drawing him to copy it when premature death and unendurable loss had put him in a wintery state of mind.

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