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

The Skylark, Dedham (recto); Study of a cow standing in a stream (verso)

Details
John Constable, R.A. (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776-1837 Hampstead)
The Skylark, Dedham (recto); Study of a cow standing in a stream (verso)
oil on board
9 3/8 x 8 in. (23.9 x 20.3 cm.)
Provenance
Patrick O'Connor, Dublin, 1973.
with David Carritt, Ltd., London.
with Eugene Victor Thaw Gallery, New York.
Robert Pirie.
Anonymous sale; Christie's London, November 10, 1999, lot 10, where acquired by the present owner.
Literature
G. Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, London, 1984, no. 30.24, pl. 791.
G. Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London, 1996, no. 10.20, p. 148, pl. 849.
Sale Room Notice
In addition to those lots marked in the catalogue with the relevant symbols, Lot 32 has a guarantee fully or partially financed by a third-party who may be bidding on the lot and may receive a financing fee from Christie’s. 

Lot Essay

The beauty of the surrounding scenery, its gentle declivities, its luxuriant meadow flats sprinkled with flocks and herds, its well cultivated uplands, its woods and rivers, with numerous scattered villages and churches, farms and picturesque cottages, all impart to this particular spot an amenity and elegance hardly elsewhere to be found; and which has always caused it to be admired by all persons of taste, who have been lovers of painting, and who can feel a pleasure in its pursuit when united with contemplation of Nature.
John Constable on his native Stour Valley (Handbook for Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire, London, 1875, p. 108)
This extraordinarily free and confidently executed work was painted by John Constable in circa 1830. It shows his beloved Stour Valley on the border between Suffolk and Essex, bounded on the west by the village of Nayland, and on the east by the sea. The view is taken looking eastward down the valley towards Dedham from more elevated ground at Langham. From this vantage point, the panorama is extensive; the tower of Dedham church can be seen from most positions and provides a distant landmark in many of Constable's Suffolk landscapes. Here, the tower has been exploited as a focal point by the artist, leading the eye across the undulating landscape and providing a valuable vertical axis in the far distance.
The upright format of the composition gives preeminence to the sky, which determines the remarkably expressive mood of the landscape. As Constable observed to his close friend, John Fisher, in 1821, 'It will be difficult to name a class of Landscape in which the sky is not the "key note", the standard of "Scale", and the chief "Organ of Sentiment"... The sky is the "source of light" in nature - and governs everything' (R.B. Beckett, John Constable's Correspondence VI: The Fishers, Ipswich, 1968, p. 77). Billowing cumulus clouds dominate the scene, hanging low on the horizon. Further, dark rain clouds encroach from the upper right corner on the blue sky and brighter clouds below, hinting at a coming rain shower and demonstrating the artist’s peerless gift for recreating atmospheric effects. His paintwork is dynamic and expressive. The integrity of the surface, with its thick impasto, is well-preserved and enables a full appreciation of Constable’s technique: he has worked swiftly and instinctively across the surface, laying paint thickly and directly onto the canvas with a palette knife in broad and vigorous strokes, heeding the early advice given to him by Benjamin West 'that light and shadow never stand still.' (C.R. Leslie, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, Jonathan Mayne, ed., Oxford, 1980, p. 14)
Constable had begun to paint and draw views of his native Stour Valley at the beginning of his career in the late 1790s. By 1802, his efforts had redoubled with his resolve to focus his artistic labors on a naturalistic style of landscape painting, based more closely on direct observation than on the emulation of the works of the past masters of landscape. His practice was to make small pencil drawings or rapidly painted oil sketches of the local landscape in the open air. This new 'truth to nature' could, in his view, only be captured in landscapes with which he felt a profound personal attachment. Some years later in 1821, he would write to John Fischer: ‘…the sound of water escaping from 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... But 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 (& I am grateful)’ (R.B. Beckett, John Constable's Correspondence VI: The Fishers, Ipswich, 1968, pp. 77-8.)
Preoccupied with Various Subjects of Landscape, and his duties as a newly elected Academician serving on the Council of the Royal Academy, Constable abandoned outdoor sketching in oils in 1830. However, by the time he came to paint the present landscape in the studio, circa 1830, he had already produced several variants of this particular view from Langham to Dedham en plein air and in horizontal format. His earliest recorded endeavor is his The valley of the Stour, with Dedham in the distance, dating to circa 1808-1809 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (see G. Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven, 1996, I, pp. 127-128, no. 08.57; II, pl. 738). In circa 1810-1815 he made two oils of Dedham from near Gun Hill, Langham (London, Tate Gallery; see G. Reynolds, op. cit., I, p. 149, no. 10.33; II, pl. 858; and New York, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries; see G. Reynolds, op. cit., I, pp. 149-150, no. 10.34; II, pl. 865). The first dated sketch of the view was made on 13 July 1812 and (fig. 1; Oxford, Ashmolean Museum; see G. Reynolds, op. cit., I, p. 170, no. 12.27; II, pl. 955). Probably in the same year, Constable made an oil sketch (fig. 2) and a pencil sketch of the view (London, Victoria and Albert Museum and Copenhagen, The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Department of Prints and Drawings respectively; see G. Reynolds, op. cit., I, pp. 173-174, nos. 12.49-12.50; II, pls. 976-977). The oil sketch formed the basis for the mezzotint Summer Morning in his series of prints known as English Landscape, published in the 1830s (fig. 3). In a draft for the text to accompany the series, Constable described the view as follows: ‘This view of the beautiful valley of the Stour … is taken from Langham an elevated spot to the NW of Dedham, where the elegance of the tower of Dedham church is seen to much advantage, being opposed to a branch of the sea at Harwich where this meandering river loses itself. This tower from all points forms a characteristic feature of the Vale.’ Another oil sketch of Dedham from Langham bears the inscription ’24. Au[g].’ and was believed by Reynolds to date to 1813 (London, Tate Gallery; see G. Reynolds, op. cit., I, p. 182, no. 13.15; II, pl. 1003). He took up the view again in 1815, producing two pencil sketches from gun hill, both in private collections (see G. Reynolds, op. cit., I, p. 212, nos. 15.44-15.44A; II, pls. 1246 and 1249A).
The title of the present painting derives from an inscription on a pencil sketch in vertical format, dating to 1813, which reads 'Dedham The Sky Lark' (fig. 4; London, Victoria and Albert Museum). The spontaneously executed drawing is part of a tiny sketchbook, measuring 3 x 4 in. (8.9 x 12 cm.), which the artist's daughter, Isabel Constable, gave in 1888 to the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum). In this sketchbook, which the artist completed between July and October of 1813, Constable recorded 'a succession of vividly seen images of the countryside and its life, the fruit of an intense communion with Nature at the period when he was separated from Maria Bicknell and could see no prospect of a successful outcome of the love he had felt for so long' (G. Reynolds, Catalogue of the Constable Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1960, p. 16). The inclusion of a title under the drawing may indicate that the artist intended to work it up into a large oil painting. However, the present oil sketch is the only evidence that he returned to the composition.
This dashing piece of painting is a bravura transcript of the earlier drawing. In returning to the subject he has replaced detail with form and mood, the only readily identifiable objects being the song-bird itself, the clump of trees on the right and the tower of Dedham Church looming in the distance. The device of a bird, hovering above a wood in a similar position to the skylark in the drawing at the Victoria and Albert Museum, was also used by Constable in Landscape: Ploughing Scene in Suffolk, 'A Summerland', of circa 1824-5 (fig. 5; New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection). The study of the standing cow on the reverse of the present work has been dated to circa 1820 and it is evident that, as was his occasional practice, Constable reused the back of an earlier exercise as his support.

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