John Constable, R.A.
- John Constable, R.A.
- Dedham Vale with the River Stour in flood from the grounds of Old Hall, East Bergholt
- oil on canvas
- 51 x 91.5 cm.; 20 1/8 x 36 in.
Anonymous sale, London, Phillips, Son & Neale, 25 June 1979, lot 79 (as attributed to T.C. Hofland);
Private collection, England, and by descent to the present owners.
I. Fleming-Williams and L. Parris (eds), Constable, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1991, p. 100, reproduced fig. 23 (as R.R. Reinagle);
B. Stewart, 'Both Sides of the Story', in Country Life, 14 November 1991, pp. 62–63 (as R.R. Reinagle).
Most likely the picture Constable referred to in a letter of 1814 that was commissioned by Thomas Fitzhugh as a wedding present for his future wife, Philadelphia Godfrey, the daughter of Constable’s near neighbour and an old family friend, the painting appears to have been begun on the spot, en plein air, before being completed in the artist’s studio. The view depicts Dedham Vale, with the River Stour in flood, as seen from the grounds of Old Hall, East Bergholt, the Godfrey family residence. It is handled with a degree of ‘finish’ and an attention to the work of the Old Masters, such as Claude Lorraine, Albert Cuyp and Thomas Gainsborough, that is typical of Constable’s practice in this period.
'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...' John Constable
Constable Country, as it has come to be known today – that area of the Stour Valley around Dedham Vale, on the border between Suffolk and Essex, bounded on the west by the village of Nayland, and on the east by the sea – has become synonymous with the great painter who immortalised its bucolic river meadows and shaded waterways. A fertile and workmanlike landscape centred on the village and parish of Dedham, which had been a prosperous cloth-working town in the Middle Ages, in Constable’s day Dedham Vale was principally an agricultural centre, the main industry being founded on the production of wheat, barley and oats. Encompassing the villages of East Bergholt, Stratford St Mary, Langham and Stoke-by-Nayland, it is today an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and was a part of the country with which Constable was particularly intimate. The artist's parents, Golding and Ann Constable, lived at East Bergholt, where the young painter was born and brought up. A prosperous miller and successful businessman, his father owned watermills at Flatford and Dedham, and a windmill on East Bergholt Heath.
We are grateful to Sarah Cove, who first proposed the attribution to Constable, and Anne Lyles for their assistance with the cataloguing of this lot, and for endorsing the attribution following thorough scientific analysis. We are also grateful to Conal Shields, Professor Michael Rosenthal and Dr Lindsay Stainton for endorsing the attribution following first-hand inspection. A full technical report on this painting by Sarah Cove ACR, Constable Research Project, is available upon request from the department.
Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood: The Fitzhugh Commission?
By Anne Lyles
John Constable is one of Britain’s best-loved and most significant landscape painters, a key figure in British Romantic art of the early nineteenth century. Many of his most famous paintings show scenes on the River Stour in Suffolk where he spent his boyhood years and which have now come to define an area of the British countryside in East Anglia known as ‘Constable Country’. Paintings such as The White Horse, 1819 (Frick Collection, New York), The Haywain, 1821 (National Gallery, London) and The Leaping Horse, 1825 (Royal Academy, London), for example, helped establish his contemporary reputation and have ensured his continuing fame until the present day.
These celebrated exhibition canvases, known as the ‘six-footers’, were painted in Constable’s studio in London and were based partly on existing sketches and partly on new composition sketches, as well as from the artist’s memory. By contrast, Constable’s earlier Suffolk paintings, especially those painted in the period 1814–17 like Wivenhoe Park, 1816 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, fig. 1), The Wheatfield, 1816 (Clark Art Institute, Williamstown) and Stour Valley and Dedham Church, 1815 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, fig. 2), were painted by him partly on the spot and show his commitment to naturalism at its most faithful. Furthermore, whilst the later ‘six-footers’ tended to be purchased either by Constable’s great friend John Fisher or by patrons or dealers with metropolitan or international connections, the earlier Suffolk paintings of the period 1814–17 tend to have closer associations with patrons or friends in the local Suffolk area.
After extensive research and technical and scientific analysis it has been convincingly established that Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood conforms closely in composition, style, size and ‘finish’ to works painted by Constable dating from the period 1814–17, and it can now therefore be firmly attributed to his hand.1 Furthermore, it will be argued that Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood is likely to be the painting commissioned by Thomas Fitzhugh as a wedding present for his future wife Philadelphia Godfrey, the daughter of Peter Godfrey who lived at Old Hall, East Bergholt. Whether or not ever conclusively identifiable as the Fitzhugh commission, Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood is surely one of the most important additions to Constable’s œuvre to have emerged in the last fifty years.
Constable had painted, or drawn, views of Dedham Vale and the Stour valley from the late 1790s when he first started training as an artist. He would generally spend the winter months in London, studying hard at the Royal Academy schools or working on a number of pictures to send to the Academy exhibition the following spring. Then, from late spring or early summer he would try to spend long periods with his family in Suffolk. During these summer months he was often tied up with commissions to paint portraits of local sitters or even altarpieces for local churches. The rest of his time he would fill exploring the landscapes in and around East Bergholt, Flatford or Dedham or elsewhere along the River Stour, gathering new material for his paintings. He continued to paint views of Dedham Vale until about 1816 when, following his marriage to Maria Bicknell, he settled permanently in London.
As Dedham Vale has changed so little since Constable's day, it is usually possible to identify the exact viewpoints from which his paintings were taken. For example, one of Constable's most important early views of Dedham Vale, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811 – Dedham Vale: Morning, 1811 (Private Collection, fig. 3) – can today be identified as a scene on the road from East Bergholt to Flatford very close to Fen Lane (the latter was the path Constable used to walk as a boy to school in Dedham). Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood shows a view on this same road but from a point closer to East Bergholt village. In fact, Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood was almost certainly painted very close to – perhaps even from – the grounds of East Bergholt’s main manor house, Old Hall sited at the edge of the village and which in Constable's day was owned by a family called the Godfreys. By comparison, Reinagle’s lost painting of the Vale during the Floods of 1799 is known to have been based on sketches made from an entirely different viewpoint in East Bergholt village, from the back of another substantial manor house belonging to a widow, Mrs Roberts, known as West Lodge.2
Although Constable himself is not known ever to have exhibited a painting of Dedham Vale in a state of inundation, either at the Royal Academy or at the British Institution, this does not of course rule out the possibility that he might have painted such a subject for a local patron.
Although Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood, at 19 ¾ x 35 inches (502 x 889 mm.), does not exactly match any other known canvas by Constable in size, the artist did paint other works on a comparable panoramic format around this time and on a similar scale. His 1811 Academy exhibit, Dedham Vale: Morning is of course on a similar extended format (measuring 31 x 51 in.; 788 x 1295 mm.).3 Constable was also commissioned in 1816 by a local Essex patron, Major-General Slater-Rebow, to paint a panoramic view of his country house and estate at Wivenhoe Park (Wivenhoe Park, Essex, 1816; National Gallery of Art, Washington, fig. 1) and this picture would have been very close in size to Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood before the former was slightly extended on either side at Slater-Rebow’s request (before additions, it measured about 22 1/8 x 32 7/8; 561 x 835 mm.; after additions, i.e. current size, 22 1/8 x 39 7/8 in., 561 x 1012 mm.). 4
In his early career, Constable’s usual working practice was to make careful pencil studies on the spot, or vigorous and rapidly-executed oil sketches, and then to translate these in the studio into finished pictures suitable for exhibition or sale. This method worked very well for him until, around 1813–14, he decided to try painting pictures on a larger scale, at which point he found himself coming up against the problem of how to achieve the right balance of detail and breadth.
On 12 April 1814, Constable’s wealthy uncle David Pike Watts, who closely followed events in the art world and took a particular interest in his nephew’s progress, wrote to Constable; ‘allow me …to offer… advice. It is that you will place or paint a little Starling on your easel with the words ‘Finish! Finish ! ’. What is anything unfinished?’5 These comments were echoed by others in the art world, the critic Robert Hunt in June describing Constable’s main exhibit that year, Landscape: the Ferry as ‘still deficient in finishing’, whilst in late July the kindly Academician and famous diarist Joseph Farington advised Constable to study pictures by Claude Lorraine so as to improve his powers of ‘finishing’.6 As a consequence of this criticism, in the summer of 1814 Constable decided to adopt an entirely different procedure, one he continued to use until 1817. He started to paint his Suffolk canvases, on a small to medium scale, partly in the open air.
The high degree of finish found in Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood is an excellent example of what Constable was striving to achieve when he adopted this new method of working. Sarah Cove has undertaken extensive analysis on the picture and has established that it is very close in style to other pictures Constable executed in the period c. 1814–17. The distant landscape, river and middle ground were painted by him wet-in-wet (that is to say adding one layer of paint over another before the latter was fully dry) and this, she suggests, indicates that he may have started the composition en plein air. By contrast, the more elaborate foreground details, such as the cows, trees and foliage, are very likely to have been worked up by Constable in the studio (and indeed she has established that he left a ‘reserve’ for the main tree on the right, confirming that this detail was added at a later stage, for pictorial effect). The accuracy of colour, scale and distant detail in the final depiction of the valley, coupled with alterations made to the flooding river also suggest the painting was worked on over a period of time, at first out-of-doors and latterly in the studio.
Indeed, the meticulous attention to detail Constable achieved in these works may have been motivated by matters of the heart as much as by a desire to please critics. With one eye on his desired union with Maria Bicknell at this time, he would especially have welcomed any private commission from a client who paid very well but who probably also valued ‘finish’ in their paintings. As it happens, Constable’s uncle, David Pike Watts, was quick to notice the difference in ‘finish’ that Constable had achieved by the end of 1815. On 10 November Joseph Farington noted in his diary that ‘Constable called me to inform me that his uncle Mr DP Watts had seen his painted studies – noticed their being more finished than his other works – and bespoke one of them.’7
One of the reasons, perhaps, that Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood was not immediately recognized as by Constable when it first appeared on the market, in 1979, is the extent to which, uniquely for a work of this date, the artist blends details directly observed from nature (especially in the middle and far distance) with very distinctive influences from the Old Masters (especially in the foreground).
Although, as mentioned above, not identical in size, Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood is nevertheless closely related compositionally to the view of Dedham Vale: Morning which Constable exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811. Both paintings for example include framing repoussoir trees, a figure wandering along a path, a large boulder in the foreground, a prominent group of cattle, and of course the wide sweep of Dedham Vale itself in the distance. Yet, by contrast with the earlier picture, Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood includes both naturalistic and Old Masterly detail in more emphatic contrast.
For example, it has already been seen that features in the middle and far distance of Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood appear to have been faithfully recorded by Constable from the life. The skyscape in the picture is also remarkably well observed, especially when one bears in mind that Constable painted it some five or six years before he was to embark on his individual sky studies in Hampstead in the early 1820s. In Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood he has painted what appears to be a noon day sky, with a sequence of magnificent rolling cumulonimbus clouds, thus apparently threatening rain, and casting a lively network of contrasting areas of light and shade across the foreground.
By contrast with these naturalistically observed details in the middle and far distance, many of the elements in the foreground of Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood give the impression of being more closely modelled on earlier, Old Masterly sources. As mentioned above, in 1814 Joseph Farington advised Constable to ‘look at some pictures by Claude… and to attend to the admirable manner in which all parts of his pictures are completed’.8 We know that Constable heeded this advice, and that late in July that year he went to look at the four paintings by Claude on display at the gallery of collector John Julius Angerstein in Pall Mall in London. Indeed, the framing trees on the left of Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood have a very Claudean flavour, particularly the way the natural green leaved specimen is juxtaposed with another one, of golden foliage, adjacent (fig. 4). The use of atmospheric recession in the painting, like that in Dedham Vale; Morning, is also very reminiscent of Claude.
Meanwhile, other features in the foreground of Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood, such as the old tree stump on the right and the autumnal coloured ferns in the foreground, are strongly reminiscent of Thomas Gainsborough’s work, especially the latter’s early Suffolk landscapes which in turn have strong echoes of Dutch seventeenth-century painting. Constable was a great admirer of Gainsborough – as well as of the Dutch landscapists – and indeed in the late spring of 1814 he visited the retrospective exhibition of the work of Gainsborough, Richard Wilson and William Hogarth at the British Institution in London. Furthermore by 1814 Constable’s uncle, David Pike Watts, had come to own one of Gainsborough’s most celebrated early landscapes, Cornard Wood, near Sudbury, Suffolk, 1748 (National Gallery, London, fig. 5) which he lent to the British Institution retrospective. So Gainsborough would have been very much in Constable’s mind in 1814, the year he may well have painted Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood.
The cows in Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood are more prominent than in other paintings by Constable, and in fact are particularly well painted. The artist made a number of studies of cows in his early career, from the life, both in pencil and in oils. The sitting bull in Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood, facing away from the viewer and with pronounced spine and slight tilt of the head, appears a number of times in these sketches and is clearly adapted from them (1810–14, see. fig. 6).9 However the cattle in the painting also have a distinctly Dutch feel, and it is possible that some of them were modelled by Constable on cows represented in etchings by Dutch artists such as Albert Cuyp, Carel du Jardin and Adrian van de Velde, as examples of prints by these artists are known to have been in his personal collection.10
Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood is, then, a picture over which Constable clearly took a great deal of trouble. Given its high level of finish, the careful planning of its design and its stylistic debts to earlier landscape artists such as Claude, Cuyp and Gainsborough, one would have expected him to exhibit it either at the Royal Academy or at the British Institution. However, Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood cannot be identified with any of Constable’s exhibits during this period.11 The most likely explanation, therefore, is that it was painted by Constable as a private commission, and given the very particular nature of its subject, presumably for someone who lived in East Bergholt.
There were only two families in East Bergholt with pockets deep enough to have been likely to afford a painting of this scale and quality, the Godfreys of Old Hall and the well-to-do widow Mrs Roberts of West Lodge. West Lodge was situated directly opposite the Constable family house on East Bergholt High Street, and Mrs Roberts was particularly well disposed to Constable. Around 1811, for example, she allowed him access to the fields from the back of her house so he could sketch the sunsets over the valley. However Mrs Roberts died towards the end of 1811, some three years before Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood is likely to have been painted, nor is there any evidence that she ever commissioned or purchased work from Constable.
The Godfreys, by contrast, also good friends and neighbours of the Constable family, began commissioning work from Constable shortly after moving to Old Hall in 1804 (fig. 7). In 1809, for example, they asked him to paint a ‘companion picture’ to a view of the local church, and then in 1812 they commissioned from him a portrait of their son William Mackenzie Godfrey.12 As the viewpoint for Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood is taken from very close to the grounds of Old Hall itself it seems highly probable that it was also the Godfreys – or someone in their immediate circle - who commissioned Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood. In fact, by far the most tempting hypothesis is that the picture was commissioned from Constable in 1814, at the Godfreys suggestion, by Thomas Fitzhugh of Plas Power as a wedding present for his bride Philadelphia, the Godfreys’ daughter.
In 1814, Thomas Fitzhugh of Plas Power (1770–1856), Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Denbighshire – and an old college friend of Peter Godfrey’s – proposed marriage to the eldest of Godfrey’s three daughters, Philadelphia Elizabeth Godfrey, and the wedding was set to take place on 11 November that year. Mr Fitzhugh is known to have commissioned Constable to paint a picture of Dedham Vale as a present for his future bride so that she could look at the familiar view from her old home after she went to live with him in London at their house in Portland Place. Constable writes of the commission in a letter to his own future wife, Maria Bicknell, on 25 October, that ‘I have almost done a picture of ‘The Valley’ for Mr Fitzhugh (a present for Miss G. to contemplate in London)’.13
Until now, the painting which Thomas Fitzhugh commissioned from Constable has always been identified with the picture in the Boston Museum and Art Gallery, The Stour Valley and Dedham Village. The latter is known to have been painted in the summer and autumn of 1814. It also has a provenance which suggests that by the end of the nineteenth century it was owned by descendants of Thomas Fitzhugh.
However, recent evidence suggests that The Stour Valley and Dedham Village may well have been originally commissioned by Peter Godfrey himself and only passed to the Fitzhugh family by descent.14 Furthermore, there have always been inconsistencies in the identification of The Stour Valley and Dedham Village with the Fitzhugh wedding commission. The subject, showing as it does a large and very prominent dung heap in left-hand middle distance, has long been regarded as rather a strange one for a wedding picture. Furthermore, although the Boston painting was indeed painted during at least some of the autumn of 1814, that is shortly before the Fitzhugh wedding took place on 11 November, there are some inconsistencies with the timing and dates. For example, given that Constable told Maria on 25 October that the Fitzhugh picture was ‘almost done’, why would he still be making a preparatory study for it, in the form of Cart with Two Horses (which relates to the composition of The Stour Valley and Dedham Village) on 24 October, only the day before?15
The fact is that Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood would surely have proved a more appropriate wedding gift than the Stour Valley and Dedham Village. Not only – unlike the latter – is it painted from the grounds of Old Hall, its extended panoramic format also made it especially suitable for rendering as much topographical detail as possible, and thus to function as a record of a particular and much-loved location for Philadelphia Godfrey to contemplate in London.16 Furthermore, the presentation of the subject with its Old Master echoes would be much more apt (than one of a dung heap) for a respectable and wealthy client like her husband Thomas Fitzhugh who probably had rather conventional tastes. One wonders if Fitzhugh owned other landscapes by Old Masters such as Cuyp and Claude with which the Constable of Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood could have hung, perhaps indeed forming a pair with one of them.
Flooding of the valley at Dedham seems to have been a fairly regular occurrence from its earliest beginnings, and indeed is implied in the very name of the river which runs through it, ‘Stour’ meaning ‘mighty river’ or ‘strong flow’. Whilst regular flooding sustained the rich, fertile grazing meadows along the valley, it also ‘impeded navigation & dispatch of business’ as Constable’s mother wrote to her son John early in January 1811 during a period of particularly heavy rains and flooding.17
There can be little doubt that Constable would himself have seen the valley in a state of inundation on regular occasions. We know that he was in East Bergholt in the summer of 1799 when he invited Ramsay Richard Reinagle to stay with his family and when the latter made sketches of the flooded meadows from the back of Mrs Roberts’s house. Constable surely saw the valley flooded on many other occasions as well, especially as Brian Stewart has estimated that, in the early nineteenth century, Dedham Vale probably flooded on average about once every seven years.18
We know from technical analysis by Sarah Cove of Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood that the idea of including a flooded valley in the picture was not Constable’s original intention. Why he should therefore have decided to add the flooded valley at a later stage in the picture’s genesis is unclear, especially as the subject of a flooded river is such a rare one in British art during this period (Reinagle’s representation of the same flooded river excepted). However, given that Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood is most likely to be a commissioned work – and, specifically, a work commissioned by Thomas Fitzhugh for his bride – it seems possible that the flooded river may well have had personal significance to one or to both of the couple, and thus that they had expressly requested it to be included. Alternatively, the idea of including a flood may have seemed an appropriate subject for a wedding commission, as a symbol of fecundity, given that flooding makes a bountiful harvest the following year.
There is a further possibility. Constable was a great lover of poetry, admiring the classic poem by James Thomson, The Seasons (1744) but also, in particular, the poetry of Suffolk-born versifier Robert Bloomfield, whose Farmer’s Boy (1800), like Thomson’s Seasons, is similarly divided into sections covering the four seasons. Whilst poetry rarely seems to have provided Constable with the springboard for the subjects of his paintings, he did greatly enjoy the notion of the interchange of ideas between the two. Like other painters in this period, he would often append lines of verse to accompany pictures he sent in for exhibition at the Royal Academy or British Institution, lines from Bloomfield’s Spring and Summer appearing in the catalogues of the Royal Academy in 1814 (to accompany A Summerland, and of the British Institution in 1817 (for The Wheatfield) respectively.19 It is just possible that, when painting Dedham Vale and the River Stour in Flood, Constable had in mind the opening lines to Bloomfield’s Autumn that would have fitted this subject very well:
Again, the year's decline, midst storms and floods
The thundering Chace, the yellow fading woods. 20
1. When Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood first appeared on the London art market in 1979, neither the exact location of the subject nor the artist who painted it were identified, the painting being tentatively attributed at the time to a minor journeyman landscapist of the period known as Thomas Christopher Hofland (1777–1843). By 1991, once the subject had been identified as a view of Dedham Vale in Suffolk, the painting acquired a new attribution, to Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775–1862), an early associate of Constable’s at the Royal Academy Schools in London when they were both studying there in the late 1790s (it was published with a Reinagle attribution in 1991, in the Tate Gallery catalogue accompanying the Constable monographic exhibition that year, Constable, exh. cat. by L.Parris and I. Fleming-Williams, Tate Gallery, 1991, fig. 32, p.100; in an article by Brian Stewart, Country Life, Nov 14, 1991, pp.62–63; and in the catalogue of an exhibition at Gainsborough’s House, From Gainsborough to Constable, 1991, exh. cat., ed. H. Belsey, cat. 50, p.73). The Reinagle attribution however has proved equally flawed. It was based almost purely on the circumstantial grounds that Reinagle, after visiting Constable in East Bergholt in the summer of 1799, when he made sketches of the flooded meadows in Dedham Vale, had then exhibited a painting based on these sketches at the Royal Academy, in 1801, with the title View of Dedham during the Floods of 1799. Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood was assumed to be Reinagle’s lost 1801 Academy exhibit.
2. Constable wrote in a letter to John Dunthorne that he had visited Reinagle’s studio in 1801 and seen this painting which he described to Dunthorne as ‘a Landscape, Dedham, from the sketch he took from Mrs Roberts’s. He calls it his best picture’ (R.B. Beckett (ed.), John Constable’s Correspondence II, Suffolk Records Society, vol.VI, Ipswich, 1964, p.25). We know that the views from the back of Mrs Roberts’s House in East Bergholt, called West Lodge, looked further westwards than that shown in Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood. Paintings made by Constable from the back of Mrs Roberts’s house show the hills and church of Langham at the left, to Stratford St Mary church in the centre, and to Stoke by Nayland church to the right – but do not feature the tower of Dedham Church.
3. For Dedham Vale: Morning, 1811, see Graham Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London, 1996, no.11.2.
4. For Wivenhoe Park, Essex see Graham Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London, 1984, no.17.04.
5. R.B. Beckett (ed.), John Constable’s Correspondence IV: Patrons, Dealers and Fellow Artists, Suffolk Records Society, vol. X, Ipswich 1966, p.37.
6. J. Ivy, Constable and the Critics 1802–1837, Boydell Press and Suffolk Records Society, 1991, p. 69, no. 14.4 (The Examiner, 26 June); The Diary of Joseph Farington, K. Garlick and A. Macintyre (eds) vols I–VI, Kathryn Cave (ed.) vols VII–XVI), New Haven and London 1978–84; see vol. XIII, p. 4564.
7. The Diary of Joseph Farington (see note 6), vol XIII, p. 4606.
8. See note 6.
9. Reynolds 1996, p. 56, no. 13.17, note 3, illustration no. 1052. It is also close to one of the cows (with horns) in an oil sketch dateable to 1810 in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (Five Horned Cattle, oil on board, Reynolds 1996, no. 10.18, illustration number 848).
10. These are listed, amongst other engravings, in A Catalogue of the Interesting and Valuable collection of Engravings, formed by the late John Constable, Esq., R.A., consisting chiefly of Painters’ Etchings, among which are included those of the principal artists of the Dutch school…, Foster and Sons, 10 May, 1838.
11. It is true that Constable exhibited one or two paintings around this time which, in theory, could correlate with this picture, such as for example ‘View of Dedham’ or ‘ Village in Suffolk’ or, indeed, ‘Landscape’, all of which were shown at the Royal Academy in 1815. However, there are other pictures by Constable dating from this period which have stronger claims to be identifiable with these exhibits, especially when one also takes into account the comments (or lack of comments) from the critics who reviewed these exhibitions at the time; one would have expected them to single out Dedham in Flood for special attention given its highly unusual subject, but there is no reference by any of them to a picture with this sort of subject. For a list of Constable’s exhibits at the Royal Academy and British Institution, see L. Parris and I. Fleming-Williams, Constable, Tate Gallery, London 1991, pp. 39–42; and for comments by the critics on Constable’s exhibits, see Ivy 1991.
12. For the ‘companion picture’ (today unidentified), see R.B. Beckett (ed.), John Constable’s Correspondence: the Family at East Bergholt 1807–1837, London and Ipswich 1962, p. 36 (letter from Mrs Ann Constable to her son John Constable, 12 August 1809). The commission to paint a portrait of William Godfrey is similarly mentioned in a later letter from Mrs Ann Constable to her son (op.cit, p. 85; letter dated 22 November 1812). The latter painting was not catalogued by Graham Reynolds on the assumption that it may never have been completed. However, the portrait survives in a private collection.
13. John Constable’s Correspondence II (cited note 2), p. 134 (letter from John Constable to Maria Bicknell, 25 October 1814).
14. For the Stour Valley and Dedham Village, see G.Reynolds, The Early Paintings (op cit note 3), no. 15.1. A recently discovered post-sale report of the contents of 2 Great Stanhope Street, 1896, points towards the strong likelihood that Peter Godfrey commissioned Stour Valley and Dedham Church on his own account. The report states: ‘The Fitzhugh sale…. A landscape in oils by J.Constable entitled ‘Dedham Vale’ which was painted for Mr Peter Godfrey (a collateral relative of the Fitzhugh family) of Old-Hall; it measures 30 x 21 inches and was knocked down for 560 guineas’. Stour Valley and Dedham Church exactly fits these measurements, and as Philadelphia was the eldest of the three Godfrey daughters, the picture presumably passed to her and then into the Fitzhugh family by descent.
15. A cart with two horses, oil on paper, 6 ¼ x 10 3/8 (Graham Reynolds, The Early Paintings, 1996, no. 14.37), which relates to the Boston painting, is dated by the artist 24 October 1814.
16. A similar extended format had been used by Constable some fourteen or fifteen years earlier when planning another wedding present for a local girl, Lucy Horlock, in the form of four large watercolours which, when viewed together, showed a panorama of the Stour Valley (from the Essex side) from Langham to Harwich (see G. Reynolds, The Early Paintings, 1996, op.cit., note 3, nos 00.4–00.6, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and 00.7, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester).
17. R.B. Beckett (ed.), John Constable’s Correspondence: The Family at East Bergholt 1807–1837, Suffolk Records Society, vol. IV, 1962, p. 52. In a letter of 8 May, 1824, Constable’s sister Mary also writes to Constable from Flatford about a ‘large flood’ (ibid, p. 209).
18. Brian Stewart, op. cit., note 1, p. 62.
19. See G. Reynolds, The Early Paintings, op. cit. note 3, nos 14.1 and 16.1.
20. Robert Bloomfield, A Farmer’s Boy; Autumn, ll 1–2 (Selected Poems: Robert Bloomfield, ed. J. Goodridge and J.Lucas, revised ed, Trent Editions, 2007, p. 42.