Sketch for View on the Stour, near Dedham

JOHN CONSTABLE (1776-1837)

Sketch for View on the Stour, near Dedham (England, c.1821 - 1822)

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Oil on canvas


129.40cm high
185.30cm wide
(50.94 inches high)
(72.95 inches wide)
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16 May 1838?, Foster's sale Constable's Executor Sale, number 36, under the title Sketch for the picture, View on the Stour, bought Morris, £12 12s (for A Landscape also)
12 June 1875 ?, Christie's sale Thomas Woolner RA, number 134 under the title On the Stour, bought Denison, £56 14s
5 May 1883, Christie's sale J.M. Dunlop, late of Holehird, Windermere, number 61, bought Martin, £1,249 10s
Royal Holloway & Bedford Colleges


Lord Windsor, John Constable RA, 1903, page 40 and Appendix I, page 199, and Appendix II, pages 208-9, and Appendix III, page 214
Burlington Magazine, Volume LXIII, 1933, pages 286-9 and reproduced plate IIA
C.R. Leslie, Memoirs of The Life of John Constable RA, 1937, pages 69, 127, 137 and reproduced plate 78a
R.B. Beckett, John Constable and The Fishers. The Record of a Friendship, 1952, page80, reprinted
Beckett, Volume VI, 1968, page 75
G. Reynolds, Catalogue of the Constable Collection, 1960, page 27
G. Reynolds, Constable, The Natural Painter, 1965, pages 69, 148
Reproduced in William Gaunt, The Restless Century, Painting in Britain 1800-1900, 1972, plate 24
Reproduced B. Taylor, Constable, Paintings: Landscape Watercolours and Drawings, 1976, plate 79

Exhibition History

London, Tate Gallery, Centenary Exhibition of Paintings and Watercolours by John Constable RA, 1937, number 4
Lisbon and Madrid, A Centenary of British Painting 1730-1830, 1949, number 5
Hamburg, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhague, British Painting from Hogarth to Turner, 1949-50, number 15
Venice, The Biennale, Exhibition of Works by John Constable, Matthew Smith, Barbara Hepworth, 1950, number 20
London, Royal Academy, The First Hundred Years of the RA, 1769-1868, 1951-2, number 209
Paris, Le Paysage Anglais, 1953, number 12
New York, Saint Louis, San Francisco, Masters of British Painting 1800-1950, 1956-7
Moscow, St Petersbourg, British Painting 1700-1860, 1960, number 58
Montreal, Man and His World, 1967, number 84
London, Royal Academy, Bi-Centenary Exhibition, 1968-9, number 89
Vienna, Prague, Two Centuries of British Painting, 1969
Paris, La Peinture Romantique Anglaise et les Pre-Raphaelites, 1972, number 52
Milan, British Painting, 1975, number 142
London, Tate Gallery, Constable, 1976, number 201

Description / Expertise

This Painting is the full-size sketch for The View on the Stour, near Dedham, exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1822 (number 183) and at the British Institution (Number 35) the following year, and now at the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California. The finish painting, together with the Hay Wain (ex RA, 1821, number 339) entitled Landscape: Noon, (National Gallery) and Hampstead Heath (not identified), was shown at the Paris Salon of 1824 where all three paintings had been submitted for exhibition by the Paris art dealer John Arrowsmith. View on the Stour, near Dedham was number 359, as Un Canal en Angleterre, Paysage. The success of these paintings at the Salon gained a gold medal for Constable, which was awarded to him by the King of Francem Charles X. The King also presented gold medals to Copley Fielding and Richard Parkes Bonnington (1801-1828). The name of Constable ‘became the battle-ground of the French critics’ but the paintings were not purchased by the French nation, possibly because Arrowsmith wanted to sell The Hay Wain and View on the Stour, near Dedham together.(1)

View on the Stour, near Dedham was the fourth of six 6 ft large canvases based on scenes of daily life on the canalised river Stour. This painting depicts a part of the river upstream from Flatford Mill, between that and the Flatford Lock, with Dedham Church in the distance. The first six-footer was The White Horse (ex RA, number 251 as A Scene on the River Stour, now Frick Collection, New York) exhibited at the Academy in 1819. The second large painting was Stratford Mill (ex RA number 17 as Landscape, Private Collection) which Constable exhibited the following year. This was followed by The Hay Wain (Landscape: Noon) in 1821. The other two canal scenes of this scale were A Boat passing the Lock (ex RA 1824, number 180, Trustees of the Walter Morrison Pictures Settlement) and The Leaping Horse (ex RA 1825, number 224, as Landscape, RA Collection, London).

Constable’s working process in The View on the Stour, near Dedham is described in his letters to his clergyman friend, Archdeacon John Fisher, who bought Constable’s first two ‘six-footer’, The White Horse and Stratford Mill. These letters are printed in R. B. Becketts’s John Constable and The Fishers, The Record of a Friendship.(2) Constable referred to the sketch for View on the Stour, near Dedham as The Bridge which is in the wooden foot-bridge in the painting. His first mention to Fisher of the work is in a letter written from Hampstead, dated 20 September 1821. Constable wrote: I am so much behind hand with the Bridge, which I have great hindrances in. I cannot do it here -& I must leave my family & work in London.(3)

Constable found that painting landscapes on this large scale was physically exhausting. In another letter to Fisher he wrote: Believe, my dear Fisher, I should almost faint by the way when I am standing before large canvasses, was I not cheered and encouraged by your friendship and approbation.(4) Again, on 23 October 1821: I am most anxious to get int my London painting-room, for I do not consider myself at work without I am before a six-foot canvas.(5)

Constable was please with the View on the Stour, near Dedham, for he wrote to Fisher on 13 April 1822: I have sent my large picture to the Academy. I never worked so hard before & now time was so short for me – it wanted much –but still hope the work in it is better than any I have got done – but hardly any body saw it(6). He wrote that William Collins (q.v.) had praised it saying that the sky was very beautiful and there were parts in it that could not be better. He also mentioned that he was short of money and it was therefore vital for him to have a successful Academy picture. However, he felt that I hope, indeed I really believe I have never yet done anything so good as the one now sent [to the Academy] – at least it has fewer objections than can be made to it. It is difficult to distinguish superiority in these things. Opie says of Titian – “if not the best painter he certainly has produced the best pictures in the world…” My conscience acquits me of any neglect of [my] last picture. I have dismissed [it] with great calmness and ease of mind.

Constable also mentioned to Fisher the changes that took place from the sketch stage to the finished oil, since Fisher had obviously seen the sketch while on a visit in January 1822. Constable outlined these compositional differences: I have taken away the sail, and added another large barge in the middle of the picture, with a principle figure, altered the group of trees, and made the bridge entire. The picture has now a rich centre, and the right-hand side becomes only an accessory.

Indeed, the sketch for View on the Stour, near Dedham differs in composition from the finished painting in many ways. The major differences are the addition in the finished painting of a second barge alongside the one shown in the sketch and the exclusion of the two small children fishing on the bottom right in the sketch who have been replaced by a girl heading towards Bridge Cottage.

These large scale paintings were, however, difficult to sell. It infuriated Constable that collectors still preferred to buy landscapes by Old Masters. Again, he wrote to Fisher, this time in great disappointment: I have no patron but yourself and you are not the Duke of Devonshire – or any other great ass. You are only a Gentleman and a Scolar, a real lover of the art, whose only wish is to see in advance.(7)

The beginning of Constable’s ideas for the final View on the Stour, near Dedham can be traced to drawings in his sketchbooks of 1813 and 1814.(8) Graham Reynolds has pointed out that Constable would work out compositional problems on a small scale which he could transfer later into large-scale works, as with this painting.(9) These drawings are of two barges one of which Reynolds considers to be a possible study for the finished painting.(10) It shows a man and a boy pushing on poles both of which point down towards the bridge.

The second drawing listed by Reynolds in relation to the finished picture is in Constable’s 1814 sketchbook.(11) Entitled by Reynolds View on the Stour near Dedham, it shows Flatford old bridge and Bridge Cottage placed as in the oil sketch here.

The catalogue of the 1951-52 exhibition held at the Royal Academy to celebrate his first 100 years of existence incorrectly states that the Huntington Library and Art Gallery also owns another study for the painting.(12) It is now thought that that sketch of the View on the Stour, near Dedham is a later copy based on the David Lucas mezzotint.(13)
The sketch, and not the finished picture, was engraved by David Lucas (1802-1881)(14); the engraving, entitled simply River Stour Suffolk, was one of a series after Constable’s works published as English Landscape in 1831; it was finally published by Henry G. Bohn of Covent Garden in English Landscape Scenery (number 14) in 1855.(15)

Lucas worked for Constable from 1829 to 1837, the year of Constable’s death, producing mezzotints mostly from small rough sketches (the large paintings here must have been an exception) which were not painted specially for the engraver. This sketch was apparently sent to Lucas in August 1830 and returned to him later the following year after continual minor changes has been made to the plate.(16)

Following this, the painting appears to have remained in Constable’s studio until the sale at Foster’s carried out by order of Constable’s executors in 1838. It is presumed that lot 36 Sketch for the picture View on the Stour is the same painting as this sketch. It was almost certainly the painting entitled On the Stour which appeared in the sale of the sculptor Thomas Woolner at Christie’s in 1875. This painting was catalogued as A Study for the large work in the Miller Collection at Preston; this refers to Thomas Horrocks-Miller who was known to have owned the finished picture. Its history after this remains uncertain until Holloway purchased it in 1883.

John Constable was born in 1776 in East bergholt, Suffolk, the son of a mill-owner whose property included the tenancy of Flatford Mill on the River Stour. In 1799 he arrived in London with an invaluable letter of introduction to the painter and diarist, Joseph Farington (1747-1821) who helped him quite considerably. Constable became a probationer in the RA Schools and in 1800 was enrolled as a student. His first exhibit at the Academy was in 1802, an unidentified Landscape and it was in this year that Constable resolved (in a letter to his friend, John Dunthorne) to become ‘a natural painter’. He quoted Sir Joshua Reynolds’s phrase that there is no easy way of becoming a good painter and went on to write: For these two years past I have been running after pictures and seeking the truth at second hand…I shall shortly return to Bergholt where I shall make some laborious studies from nature. This he did: he returned to Suffolk, bought a studio in East Bergholt and began what was to become a lifetime of laborious studies from nature.

In the autumn of 1806 Constable visited the Lake District where he drew his first recording of weathers conditions. He found, however, according to his biographer Leslie that the solitude of mountains oppressed his spirits and he felt more sympathetic to landscape which involved human activity.

He spent most of his time painting in Suffolk, making occasional journeys around the country to visit friends. In 1815 he exhibited Boat building at the RA (number 215), a canvas of 20x24 inches (50.8 x 60.9 centimetres) of which Leslie claimed: I have heard him say he painted entirely in the open air. Before this, Constable had already begun his series of five large canal scenes the first of which, The White Horse, was exhibited in 1819. It was in 1821, the year The Hay Wain was exhibited, that Constable seriously started to make cloud studies whilst at Hampstead. He did them as oil sketches and called the process skying.

1824 was an important year: his landscape paintings met with real success at the French Salon and were admired by Delacroix. It was also the year on his first visit to Brighton, which became on of his favourite places to work.

In 1829 he began to formulate his ideas for a series of mezzotints after his paintings by David Lucas. This became a constant enterprise and resulted in the published English Landscape Scenery. The painting on which he was working in the year of his death, Arundel Mill and Castle, was exhibited posthumously at the RA (number 193) in their new premises in Trafalgar Square.

1. See The Introduction C.R. Leslie, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable RA, 1937, page34
2. R. B. Becketts’s John Constable and The Fishers, The Record of a Friendship, 1952, Volume IV
3. Op.cit. R.B. Beckett, 1952, page 78
4. C.R. Leslie, 1937, page 108
5. Op. cit. page 117
6. R.B Becketts, 1952, pages 91-94
7. Sydney J. Key, John Constable: His Life and Work, 1948, page 61
8. In the Victoria and Albert Museum Print Room
9. Graham Reynolds, Catalogue of the Constable Collection, 1960, page 16
10. Op. cit. no.121, page 11
11. Op. cit. no. 132, page 52
12. As does H. Isherwood Kay in the Burlington Magazine article, The Hay Wain, Vol. LXII, 1933, page 286
13. Information given by Dr Robert Wark of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
14. The finished was engraved slightly later as View on the Stour, near Dedham by W.R. Smith for E. and W. Finden in 1840 for their Finden’s Gallery of British Art, since the finished version was still in France, see the exhibition catalogue, Constable, Tate Gallery, 1976, page 124.
15. See Hon. Andrew Shirley, The Published Mezzotint of David Lucas after John Constable, RA, 1930, number 19
16. Op. cit. H. Isherwood Kay, page 286