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New insight into John Constable's studio practice discovered at Bonhams
Great painter used assistant to trace outlines for masterpieces. Photo: Bonhams.
LONDON.- An important study by renowned English landscape painter John Constable has surfaced for sale after 62 years in private hands. The oil on paper is a precise study of figures and horse-drawn wagons on Hampstead Heath, most likely created in 1824 and estimated to sell for £60,000 – 80,000 at Bonhams Old Masters sale on 5th December at New Bond Street, London.

Constable’s present study exactly matches the composition for the right-hand foreground of two seminal works of ‘Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead’, painted in 1824. At this time Constable was at the height of his fame, having won the gold medal at the Paris Salon for ‘The Haywain’ and ‘View on the Stour near Dedham’ that year. He was receiving an increasing number of commissions from Parisian dealers and English patrons and was called upon to create two almost identical paintings of ‘Branch Hill Pond’.

Bonhams analysis of the study shows a fascinating insight into the way the artist worked and how he coped with multiple commissions. The study reveals how Constable used his assistant Johnny Dunthorne to trace the figures’ outlines onto the larger canvas.

It is likely that this study by Constable was worked up from a pencil drawing which the artist made on-site, intended to be the foreground focus of ‘Branch Hill Pond’. The outline of the closer horse, cart and figures are incised, implying that they were traced, probably by Johnny Dunthorne, while the paint was still wet and then transposed into the right hand corners of the canvases he had prepared. With the outlines in place, Constable would be able to work up the main body of the painting, building up the detail until he was satisfied with the finished masterpiece.

The study, which is 25cm wide is replicated exactly in the bottom right-hand third of the two 75cm-wide canvases of ‘Branch Hill Pond’.

Dave Dallas, International Director of Old Master paintings said, “Constable is an extraordinary painter who continues to provoke debate among specialists across the world. Scholars are still unravelling his working methods and the extent to which Dunthorne was used in the studio. The incised marks on the study confirm what was long suspected, that Dunthorne traced key elements by Constable for use in major works. This new insight is an exciting discovery.

“The study reputedly comes from the artist’s studio and was then passed down to one of his granddaughters. Added to this is the fact that it hasn’t been seen on the market for so long, making this a truly unusual find.”



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