Lot 169
  • 169

John Constable, R.A.

20,000 - 30,000 GBP
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  • John Constable, R.A.
  • Borrowdale by Moonlight - rectoThe Bridge at Watendlath - verso
  • watercolour and pencil on paper - recto
    grey washes and pencil on paper - verso
  • 10.7 by 24cm., 4 1/4 by 9 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 1806.


Charles Golding Constable, England (the artist's son)
Private Collection, England (by descent from the above) 
Mr West (a gift from the above in 1888)
Dr. Andrew Scott Myrtle, England  
Mrs P.M. Crabb, England, by descent from the above (sale: Sotheby's, London, 13th November 1980, lot 99)
Spink & Sons, London
Mr & Mrs E.M. Rooth (sale: Sotheby's, London, 15th July 1993, lot 68)
Purchased at the above sale by the late owner


London, Tate Britain, Constable, 1991, no. 237
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Linie, Licht und Schatten. Meisterzeichnungen und Skulpturen der Sammlung Jan und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 1999, no. 59
Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, The Timeless Eye. Master Drawings from the Jan and Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski Collection, 1999, no. 92
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Miradas sin Tiempo. Dibujos, Pinturas y Esculturas de la Coleccion Jan y Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2000, no. 89


Ian Fleming-Williams, 'Early Constable: New Watercolours and Drawings,' The Connoisseur, vol. 206, January 1981, fig. 4, illustrated p. 61
Ian Fleming-Williams & Leslie Parris, The Discovery of Constable, London, 1984, pp. 177 & 259
Ian Fleming-Williams, Constable and his Drawings, London, 1990, illustration of the verso, p. 83
Stephen Hebron, Conal Shields, Timothy Wilcox, The Solitude of Mountains, Constable and the Lake District, Grasmere, 2006, illustrated fig. 24 


This is an extremely rare drawing, being only one of four known works to have survived unfaded from Constable's 1806 tour of the Lake District. Recto: The pigments are fresh and rich. There are occasional creases in the sheet, which can only be seen on close inspection. Verso: The medium remains very strong and fresh. The sheet has been window mounted to display both sides.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Constable executed this superbly preserved double-sided sheet while on his only sketching tour of the Lake District in September and October of 1806. This tour is often described as a pivotal moment in the young artist's career. Still only thirty years of age, he spent just under two months exploring the rugged mountains, remote lakes and isolated valleys of Cumberland and Westmoreland. This dramatic landscape, so different from his native Suffolk, not only inspired within him great artistic creativity, but also enabled him to scale new heights with his use of the medium of watercolour.

The recto of this sheet shows the valley of Borrowdale, looking south, towards the Glaramara mountain range. Constable spent a full three weeks in and around this area and he experienced it in every kind of weather. To the right, Constable depicts majestic slopes and peaks bathed in a soft and warm evening sunlight, while to the left, the moon rises gently above Eagle Crag. In 1806, a full moon was recorded on the 27th September and scholars, having noted that Constable's moon is well over three-quarters full, have suggested that this side of the sheet was drawn on or around the 23rd September (S. Hebron, C. Shields, T. Wilcox, The Solitude of Mountains, Constable and the Lake District, Grasmere 2006, p. 112). Although this can never be fully verified, what is entirely certain is that that particular evening was a clear and dry one, offering the young artist a rare opportunity to record the effects of both sun and moon light. 

Constable is very likely to have created the drawing on the reverse of this sheet at around the same date, as it depicts part of the hamlet of Watendlath, which lies only a short distance to the east of Borrowdale. It was a well known beauty spot and Constable may also have been encouraged to visit the valley by his patron Sir George Beaumont. Sir George was a talented amateur artist in his own right and a pencil sketch by him, showing the same bridge as in the present work, survives in the Wordsworth Trust Museum (Hebron, Shields & Wilcox, op. cit., p. 142). 

Although Constable was prolifically active during his Lake District tour, creating nearly one hundred drawings and watercolours, many of the surviving watercolours have sadly suffered from the effects of light. The present work is particularly important as it is one of only four known examples which has remained unfaded.