Possibly the artist's posthumous sale, Foster's, 16th May 1838, lot 14 (bt. for £9.19 by Radford) or lot 37 (bt. fir £6.10 by 'Williams' as a misunderstanding for Wilson, see later provenance. Williams also purchased GR 19.9 in the Foster's sale, now Louvre Museum) both entitled sketch of 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows';
John Wilson (1811-1883), who assumed the surname FitzPatrick in 1842 and was created 1st Lord Castletown in 1869, the illegitimate son of John FitzPatrick, 2nd and last Earl of Upper Ossory (1745-1818);
By descent to his daughter Augusta, the Honourable Mrs. Magniac of Colworth, Bedfordshire, previously Mrs. Dawson (widow of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Vesey Dawson, c. 1845) who married as her second husband Charles Magniac (1827-1891), son of Hollingworth Magniac (d. 1867);
The Honourable Mrs Magniac, of Colworth Bedfordshire, by whom consigned to Christie's, London, February 1892 (not offered for sale)
In this dramatic painting, Constable depicts Salisbury Cathedral from the meadows amidst a lightning storm. A fisherman in the foreground looks forward nervously and intently towards the building and at the impending rain. Highlighted and lit momentarily from a flash of lightning, the solid structure of the Cathedral appears reassuringly imperious and unaffected in a scene which is composed specifically to emphasise the drama of a storm. The trees on the left are blown fiercely to one side, the sky is composed of confidently painted harassed and impetuous clouds, the fishermen have stopped fishing and those across the water appear to be seeking shelter in their boat amidst the reeds, birds are thrown on the wind and wheel above the trees to the right whilst cows lie down or shelter at the waters edge as they brace themselves for the downpour of rain which approaches.
For Constable the art of recording a landscape in paint was a form of expressing his emotions. As the often quoted lines confirm; '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."1 When appreciated in this context, this recently re-discovered view of Salisbury Cathedral in a storm, offers a revealing insight into the inner (emotional) turmoil and personal anguish which we know from his correspondence that this most complex artist was experiencing and attempting to come to terms with towards the latter part of his life. Analysis of this painting and the thoughts and research of Graham Reynolds and Sarah Cove, amongst others, places it within the following context.
In 1829 seeking consolation and comfort following the recent death of his beloved wife Maria, Constable visited his closest friend, patron and loyal correspondent John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury Cathedral. Such was Fisher's understanding and empathy towards Constable that he encouraged him to focus his mind on the subject of Salisbury writing that "I am quite sure that the 'Church under a Cloud' is the best subject you can take. It will be an amazing advantage to go everyday and look afresh at your material drawing from nature herself.'2 The observation and study of nature was to provide the soothing consolation and diversion for his troubled mind. Unlike the landscape around the Stour valley where Constable and Maria had courted and spent their childhood (which was presumably too poignant at this time), the familiar sight of Salisbury Cathedral and the affectionate memories which Constable would have held following his earlier visits in 1816 and the 1820s and through his close relationship with Fisher explain the acceptance of this recommendation. Constable scholars also point to the importance of the recent developments within the Christian Church at this date centred around the Reform Bill. The traditions of the Church and it's place within society at this time were under threat and Constable's correspondence with Fisher highlight his deep worry, anger and concern. It has often been suggested that Constable used Salisbury Cathedral as a metaphor for the representation of the Church in general at this date and therefore the meterological effects under which it is presented are of great significance.
As a recently elected full member of the Royal Academy, Constable was expected to produce paintings for the annual summer exhibition. Building on the sketches he drew in July and August of 1829 (fig, 1.) he also made various small oil sketches (for example see Graham Reynolds, no. 31.4) in the build up to the production of the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1831 (fig, 2. Private Collection, currently on loan to the National Gallery, London).
The same year, Constable decided to capitalise upon the successful public reception of this painting and venture down the well trodden path of earlier Royal Academicians in reproducing their works in mezzotint. The method where dots and ridges are made into a copper plate from which impressions are made was invented in the seventeenth century and brought to perfection as a reproductive method by eighteenth century engravers who copied the portraits of Reynolds, Gainsborough and Romney. Turner's favoured engraver S W Reynolds first approached Constable about the prospect of such a project but Fisher had expressed his doubts and astutely suggested that, 'there is in your pictures too much evanescent effect, and general tone, to be expressed by black and white. Your charm is colour and the cool tint of English daylight. The burr of mezzotint will never touch that.'3 The scheme fell through but by 1829 Constable employed Reynold's successor David Lucas in a project of engravings entitled English Landscape Scenery.
In planning English Landscape Scenery Constable, at the age of 53, was reviewing his entire life's work and therefore his choice of subject matter is a revealing indication of where his interests lay. Of the 30 plates he only chose 20 which were used in his lifetime (the others saw the light of day in posthumous publications of 1838 and later). Of the full range of subjects one-half were of scenes of Dedham, East Bergholt, Flatford and the artist's homeland. The remaining scenes are taken from the other regions of his affection; three from Hampstead, two each from Brighton and Salisbury and individual plates from Helmingham, Weymouth and Yarmouth.
In 1832 Constable was further distressed by a second loss when Fisher also passed away. The subject of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows subsequently became even more poignant and perhaps even an obsession for Constable as the extensive correspondence between him and the engraver David Lucas suggests (see A. Shirley, The Published Mezzotints of David Lucas after John Constable, 1930, no. 30). Constable was increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress towards a final proof with which he was content as various letters attest. In one letter dated February 1832 Constable was so frustrated that he could not concentrate on anything else - refusing an invitation to dine with his fellow Academicians (despite only recently being elected) to remain at home such was his anger that Lucas had not made better progress on the proof; "I really consider the state of the Salisbury plate is so utterly hopeless that I have come to the determination to abandon it - & substitute a New Sarum," (Sarum being an local abbreviation often used for Salisbury as it was the name of the ancient remains of the former Cathedral).4
Such was Constable's determination for the long suffering Lucas to interpret what he saw as his perfect engraved vision of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows we believe this picture was prepared by Constable as he attempted to finalise the 'perfect' design and illustrate as clearly as possible his intentions for the subtle tonal and detail effects that he absolutely required in the final print before Lucas started yet another engraving of this view. Infact Andrew Wilton predicted that such a painting exisited when he compiled his publication on Constable's English Landscape Scenery in 1979, p. 108. Sarah Cove and other experts in this field also agree that this painting can be dated to c. 1830s and it is clearly evident that the composition and lighting effects follow the initial proofs c. 1831 (Metropolitan Museum, New York and Victoria & Albert Museum, London) and appear to correspond almost precisely to Lucas's subsequent progress proof 'n' of his engraving (fig, 3) and prior to the addition of the Rainbow first mentioned c.1834 and evident in later proofs (see Shirley, lit.op.cit., letters 163 and later 169 in particular).
As the work appears relatively thinly painted, and yet bears evidence of two or more sittings (as wet on dry areas of paint are visible) this painting was evidently a work on which Constable took not only great time (it is not the small size of his earlier sketches nor the large seize of his pre-exhibition sketches) but also great determination in designing. He dedicated time and passionate energy in his determination to relay his requirements and in this painting enough of the most important tonal description and form of the design exists specifically to instruct the engraver of his intentions whilst enough remains left unsaid to not distract or confuse the engraver. This fascinating painting remained in Constable's studio as a visual resource and treasured view until the sale following his death in 1838. The painting subsequently belonged to the Magniac family via marriage. Augusta, the Honorable Mrs Magniac was certainly the owner of the painting when it was consigned to Christie's in 1892. Her father-in-law, Hollingworth Magniac was interestingly an asture collector of Medieval Art and Miniatures, many of which are now in the Victoria & Albert Museum.
This important re-discovery now adds to the canon of Constable's views of Salisbury Cathedral which have long fascinated scholars and collectors. Although Constable only visited Salisbury seven times between 1811 and 1829 - with only three extended stays - the fruits of these trips and his extensive correspondence with Fisher have been the focus of recent extensive scholarship. Following Selby Wittingham's Constable and Turner at Salisbury in 1972, Sue Boulton wrote, 'Church under a cloud: Constable and Salisbury,' for Turner Studies, Winter 1984, vol. 3 no. 2., Graham Reynolds's unparalleled catalogue raisonne listed all the works traced prior to it's publication in 1984 and Timothy Wilcox has currated the current exhibition of Constable & Salisbury. This work makes a significant contribution to our understanding of this important artists' creative powers and also the phsychology and intentions behind his creative process.
1. J. Constable to J Fisher, 23 October 1821 as quoted in RB Beckett, John Constable's Correspondence, vi: 106
2. R.B. Beckett, John Constable's Correspondence, Ispwich 1962-1970, vol vi: 251
3. As quoted in G. Reynolds, Constable the Natural Painter, London 1965, p. 111
4. Shirley, lit.op.cit., 1930 p. 73
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