Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Constable painting discovered

A PAINTING sold by Lady Hambleden for just £3,500 is back on the market for around £2 million after experts found it was the work of British master John Constable

A PAINTING sold by Lady Hambleden for just £3,500 is back on the market for around £2 million after experts found it was the work of British master John Constable.

It was among valuables sold at auction in the summer of 2013, at Christie?s in London, for just over £1.17m because she had ?no room for it?.

It followed the sale of Hambleden Manor, a Grade II listed Elizabethan property, following the death of her ex-husband Viscount Hambleden in 2012.

The preparatory oil on canvas sketch for one of Constable?s most celebrated masterpieces - Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows - will now be auctioned by Sotheby?s in New York on January 29.

Christie?s thought a ?follower? had painted the study in homage to his famous 1831 work, bought by the Tate gallery last year for £23.1 million, and valued it at between £500 and £800.

A collector bought it for £3,500 who then realised it had been heavily retouched.

The catalogue note for the sketch has been written by Anne Lyles, a leading authority on the artist and former curator of 18th and 19th century British art at Tate Britain.

She said it is ?conceivable? that Constable painted the Hambleden study in the winter of 1829-30.

She said: ?This oil sketch is one of five preliminary oil sketches which Constable made for Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows which is perhaps the greatest of his late masterpieces, and which was only recently acquired for the nation after a major fund-raising campaign.

?The recent emergence of this oil sketch from the Hambleden collection, where it was hitherto completely unknown to scholars, reveals its key role in establishing the dramatic and beautiful chiaroscuro of the final picture; the striking light effects on the cathedral in the completed picture, with its majestic spire piercing the stormy sky like a needle, are derived chiefly from the present study.

?Moreover, it also reveals Constable?s development of the composition, notably at the right where the familiar shape of Harnham Ridge now comes into view. It is thus one of the most exciting and important additions to the master?s oeuvre to have emerged in recent decades.

?In whichever year it was painted, it certainly came in very useful for Constable when he was refining some of the details in the final painting over the winter of 1830-31.

?Furthermore, Constable may have depended on the Hambleden oil for helping provide some of the architectural detail of the cathedral?s west front in the finished picture.?

Mrs Lyles says the date at which the painting entered the collection of the Viscounts Hambleden is uncertain, however the most prolific collectors of that family were W.H. Smith (1792-1865), founder of the book sellers and stationers, and his son W.F.D. Smith (1868-1928), the second Viscount.

She continued: ?At the time of the dispersal of the contents of Hambleden Manor at Christie?s in 2013, it is interesting to note that this painting was overlooked.

?The present work by Constable was heavily retouched with a dark and opaque pigment which probably dated to the late 19th or early 20th century, in a misguided attempt to ?finish? the painting, thus depriving it of its lively, sketchy quality.

?Thankfully the retouchings on the present painting were readily soluble in the course of its recent cleaning, and Constable?s original and brilliant conception has been once again revealed.?


Born Countess Maria Carmela Attolico di Adelfia, Lady Hambleden married William Herbert Smith, the fourth Viscount Hambleden, in 1955.

When the couple divorced in 1988, Lady Hambleden remained in the manor. Her ex-husband moved to America, where he died aged 82.

Constable was born in rural Suffolk in 1776 and was celebrated for his oil paintings of English landscapes.

Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is among his most famous works, which also include The Hay Wain, Dedham Vale and The Leaping Horse.

A spokesman for Christie?s said: ?We are aware that Sotheby?s are offering this work as a Constable. We took the view at the time of our sale in 2013 that it was ?follower of?. We understand that there is no clear expert consensus on the new proposed attribution.?

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