Four previously unknown drawings of John Constable have been discovered hidden among a jumble of letters, poems, jokes and even dried leaves accumulated in a family scrapbook made throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Sotheby’s auction house said it had authenticated what was “an extraordinary resurgence” of drawings by one of Britain’s most important artists.
“These works have remained hidden for the better part of 200 years in an album compiled by the Mason family of Colchester,” said Mark Griffiths-Jones, Sotheby’s specialist in British watercolors and drawings. “It’s full of all kinds of weird and wonderful objects and pictures and these four pictures.”
The works include a watercolor drawing of a rural landscape signed J Constable and dated April 5, 1794, which was when he was 17, making it one of his earliest known works.
It’s not a drawing that shows much of Constable’s genius, but he was just a teenager, still working at the family windmill at the time. It would be another five years before he began his training as an artist at the Royal Academy schools.
“It’s probably copy after print and it’s pretty naive,” Griffiths-Jones said. “Was very young. From an academic point of view it is interesting to find something from this date. Constable, very famous, was a late developer. “
There is also a drawing of a ramshackle thatched cottage that has been established as the original drawing from a Constable engraving made in 1797, which is the only surviving engraving from that period. An edition of it is in the collection of the V&A in London.
The other two drawings are portraits. “In some ways they are the most exciting,” Griffiths-Jones said, because they are drawings related to Constable’s oil paintings.
One is from his younger brother Abram, a painting what is in the Constable Collection at the Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. The two brothers got along very well and it was Abram’s willingness and abilities to run the family business that enabled John to pursue a career as a professional artist.
Griffiths-Jones said the portrait captured Abram as a “beautiful, romantic figure” with full sideburns and fashionable hair.
The other drawing is of his cousin, Jane Anne Mason, later Inglis, who was the subject of an oil painting that Constable produced around 1808 and which is now in the Government Art Collection, hung for many years at 10 Downing Street.
“This is a particularly sensitive pencil portrait study and really very beautiful,” Griffiths-Jones said. “It is really impressive work.”
The album retails at an estimate of £ 24,000-28,000 and will be the highlight of Sotheby’s online Old Master and British works for sale on paper from 24 November to 4 December.
Griffiths-Jones said the album was essentially a family scrapbook, made between 1794-1862, resulting in a time capsule containing a myriad of messy material. Includes amateur watercolors, old master prints, oak leaves, poems, songbooks, and commentary on contemporary events.
He said that he had spent much of the lockdown working on the album, which had been tremendous fun. “It has been an exciting journey and I am sure that the art world will be interested in discovery, in museums and collectors alike. This is a unique opportunity, ”he said.
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