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Lost Constable drawings found in Detroit suburb to sell at Bonhams in London
These drawings have not been seen on the market for at least 50 years. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Bonhams announced the sale of the Jasper L. Moore Collection of Drawings by John Constable, as part of the Old Masters Sale to be held at New Bond Street on the 3rd July. The star lot of the collection will be a worked-up pencil sketch of Coleorton Hall.

These drawings have not been seen on the market for at least 50 years and in the case of the chalk drawing of the Dorset Coast and the two views of the grounds of Hedingham Castle, appear to be unrecorded.

The two finished drawings, Salisbury Cathedral: The West End, and Coleorton Hall were known to Graham Reynolds and described by him in ‘The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable’, and ‘The Later Drawings and Paintings of Constable’ in 1996 and 1984 respectively.

Salisbury Cathedral is a recurring motif in Constable’s work with its strong family association but it is the reappearance on the market of Coleorton Hall which will most quicken the pulse of Constable scholars and students of English culture in general.

The house was the seat in Leicestershire of Sir George Beaumont, connoisseur, collector, amateur and philanthropist. He was a patron and friend of the Lake Poets giving Samuel Taylor Coleridge a gift of £100 before his departure for Malta and making Wordsworth a freeholder. Beaumont was keen to see his protégés as equals. Wordsworth repaid him by helping design the winter garden at Coleorton and writing ‘Elegiac Stanzas’ about Sir George’s Royal Academy exhibit in 1806, ‘Peel Castle in a Storm’.

In November 1823 Constable was staying at Coleorton and suffering a bout of ill health due to staying most of his time indoors and copying Sir George’s Claudes and twenty studies of skies by Alexander Cozens, who had been Sir George’s drawing master at Eton. He decided to stay a few extra days at Coleorton as Robert Southey the Poet Laureate whom Constable had first met with Beaumont in the lakes in 1806 was on his way back from the lakes to stay there.

Constable writes to his wife, Maria on November 18, 1823, “I send you a hasty note by Southey but all that morning I had been engaged on a little sketch in Miss Southey’s album of his (Beaumont’s) house which pleased all parties here very much.”

Edith Southey’s album is preserved intact in the Central Library, Bristol with Constable’s watercolour in it. The beautiful pencil sketch owned by the late Jasper Moore is the starting point for this watercolour and in many ways is the more powerful of the two views of the house.

On the 26th of November Constable writes again to Maria saying that he has “hastily left the house and has only made you one little sketch of the house which is all I have done from nature.” The lot to be offered in the July sale is probably the ‘little sketch’, in which case we have its provenance back to the artist’s wife with a sizeable gap until the album in which it was contained appeared at auction in June 1946. Jasper Moore bought it thereafter.

The late owner of the drawings, Jasper Moore was an anglophile from Michigan. Moore traced his roots back to the Mayflower as a descendant of John Howland, and never lost sight of his ancestry. He began collecting works of art during World War II while stationed in California and was still collecting up until his recent death aged 90.

John Constable was the focus of his collecting and on numerous trips to Britain and New York he amassed more than 180 mezzotints by David Lucas after Constable as well as the five drawings to be offered.

In the words of Jasper Moore himself, when writing to a museum director “Looking at Mr Constable’s glorious work makes Harriet’s (his wife) and my heart take flight.”

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