They come for sale from two private collections. Constable is best known as a painter of landscapes but he produced over 100 competent oil portraits in his lifetime, many of them depicting subjects local to the Stour Valley or friends and family members.
The portrait of a middle-aged gentleman offered for sale at Chiswick on June 19 is believed to be John Constable’s paternal uncle Abram Constable (1742-1812) who lived 10 miles away in Wormingford. Appearing in Arthur Graham Reynolds’ 1996 Constable catalogue raisonné as Abram Constable of Wormingford, it is thought to have been painted around 1809, three years before Abram died.
It comes for sale from the family of Ronald Brymer Beckett (1891-1970), the art historian who between 1962 and 1975 published eight volumes of the edited Correspondence of John Constable as well as Constable and the Fishers: The Record of a Friendship (1952). In 1956 he was instrumental in mounting and curating the exhibition John Constable 1776-1837 at Manchester City Art Gallery where the portrait was shown.
A Constable oil portrait is a lesser commercial prospect than a Constable oil landscape. However, this is reflected in the £30,000-£50,000 estimate.
Also from the Beckett collection is a pencil drawing from the 1820s probably depicting Constable’s wife, Maria Elizabeth Bicknell (1788-1828). Portrait sketches, like letter writing, played an important part in the romance between Constable and Maria, as they were often parted for long periods of time. This example is estimated to fetch £8000-£12,000.
Commenting on the sale British and European art specialist Suzanne Zack said: “It has been so exciting to have been shown these fascinating works which have remained in the family unseen by the public since the 1950s. They give us a real feeling of the close relationship between the artist and sitter and add to the appreciation of Constable’s life and work beyond the great landscapes that he is best known for.”
The subject of a third work, a pencil drawing of a river landscape with a castle in the background, is thought to be Framlingham Castle, 30 miles north of Constable’s East Bergholt home.
Constable drew the castle many times between 1800-15 with this drawing one of those sold by Sotheby’s in 1949 as part of the sale of the Gregory collection. It is estimated to fetch £6000-8000.
In March two tiny Constable compositional drawings in pen and brown ink on wove writing paper c.1832-35 were sold by the auctioneers for close to £90,000.