Constable
The BBC’s 'Fake or Fortune?' investigated whether this was a real John Constable sketch. Photo credit BBC/ Emilie Sandy.

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The hit sleuthing show revealed that a painting now belonging to a Gloucestershire businessman was indeed a “compositional sketch” by Constable c.1820s of Willy Lott's Cottage, an alternative view of the same location in Constable's famous painting, The Hay Wain.

After tracing the provenance of the painting in locations including Constable’s native Suffolk, Los Angeles, London and Scotland, the painting was deemed to be “a genuine and authentic” sketch by Constable specialists Sarah Cove and Anne Lyles. It is valued in excess of £2m, according to Mould. 

Mould, who first bought the painting in 1995 for £10,000 at auction when it was described as ‘circle of Constable’, said “the art historical and commercial stakes (in this episode) are amongst the highest we have ever been involved with".

The St James’s dealer had failed to prove it was indeed by Constable twice in the past, selling it the first time before buying it again at £20,000. He then sold it 17 years ago to the current owner, his client, for £35,000.

The businessman bought the painting because he believed in Mould’s view that it was a Constable, “I really liked the painting. It is a beautiful scene. Certainly it was a bet worth taking.”

During the search to prove the picture to be real, BBC presenter Fiona Bruce described it as one of the most famous landscapes in British art history but warned Constable (1776-1837) was “the most forged artist of the 19th century”.

Reminiscing about owning the picture, Mould said: “Being a dealer I couldn’t hang on to it for a very long time because art dealers can’t afford to put money into a picture and hope and wait. I was obliged to sell it on and always regretted it.”

"Strongest provenance trails"

Bruce said that the BBC team uncovered the “strongest provenance trails we have ever had, unbroken back over 120 years… with a stellar cast of owners” including its passing through well-known dealers Arthur Tooth & Sons and Colnaghi.  

During the programme Mould said: “Seeing this picture again I get the same jolt of excitement that I got before…With many new avenues of research open to us I think the time was right to uncover the truth about this painting once and for all… If I had encountered some of what I have found out now I would never have sold it to Reed.”

On Twitter, following the broadcast of the programme, Mould said he was not upset he no longer owned the painting. He said: "Happiest most to be proved I was not deluded. I now have more of a spring in my step... and I am very happy for owner."

The owner said he would like the picture to go on public display.