Co-curators of the forthcoming exhibition Constable Portraits: The Painter and His Circle at the National Portrait Gallery
have made important discoveries concerning two portraits belonging to Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service.
Anne Lyles, Tate curator and leading authority on the work of John Constable, and Martin Gayford, writer and critic, have confirmed that a portrait of Ann Constable, John Constable's mother, is by the artist. They have also provisionally re-identified a portrait of Constable's father, Golding Constable that was previously thought to be a portrait of his school master. These two portraits, now thought to make a pair, have been in the collection at Colchester and Ipswich Museum service since 1926. The discoveries were made by Lyles and Gayford while conducting research for the forthcoming exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, which will include the portrait of Golding Constable.
Painted around 1805, the recently authenticated portrait of Ann Constable is 36 x 28" or "Kit-Cat" size, a format favoured by the artist for portraits early in his career, until 1814. The sitter is pictured facing left with a spaniel in her lap. This portrait was painted on canvas supplied by T Brown of Holborn, an artist's merchant known to have been used by Constable.
The recent authentication of this picture has thrown light on the likely identity of the sitter shown in a male portrait also belonging to Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. The sitter in this portrait, also "Kit-Cat" size, was previously identified as Constable's schoolmaster from Dedham, Dr Thomas Lechmere Grimwood based on its description in a 1926 Sotheby's sale catalogue as a 'Portrait of the artist's schoolmaster'.
There are several strands of evidence to support this new assertion of the sitter's identity as Constable's father, Golding. The sitter has a strong resemblance, with the same jowls and brown curled wig as a later portrait of Golding Constable, circa 1815, which belongs to Tate. The book held by the male sitter looks remarkably like the Constable family Bible, which is still in existence. Crucially, these portraits of both Ann and Golding Constable, belonging to Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service have shared the same provenance for many years, descending through the same branch of the Constable family. Both portraits are "Kit-Cat" size and facing complementary directions which suggest they are a pair and it therefore seems likely that they are portraits of the artist's mother and father rather than his mother and schoolmaster. Hugh Golding Constable sold both portraits at Sotheby's in consecutive lots in December 1926 and both were donated to Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service by the buyer PG Laver in the same year.
Lyles and Gayford now believe these paintings to be earlier versions of the portraits of Constable's parents belonging to Tate (circa 1815). The evidence for this was recently unearthed by Lyles examining correspondence from the artist. A relation of Constable, Harriet Savile, requested portraits of his mother and father in 1815 after Ann Constable's death. Constable replied that he would paint them 'from those we have here', now believed to refer to Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service portraits.
The portraits of Golding Constable from Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service and Tate will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 March - 14 June 2009 as part of Constable Portraits: The Painter and His Circle, sponsored by British Land PLC. John Constable (1776-1837) is recognised as a landscape painter of profound originality and popularity and yet his portraits are often overlooked. This will be the first exhibition to explore John Constable's life and art through his portraits and will include nearly 50 works including oil portraits, watercolours and sketches.
Exhibited works will be on loan from institutions including Tate, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, V & A, Royal Academy and Yale Center for British Art, alongside works from private collections, many of which have not been on public display for many years. Remarkably, considering Constable's reputation and output of approximately 100 portraits, this body of work is not well-known. Constable Portraits will offer the opportunity to re-evaluate and rediscover this previously marginalised aspect of the artist's work.
The portrait of Ann Constable is now on display in the Wolsey Art Gallery in Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.
Emma Roodhouse, Art Curator, Christchurch Mansion says; 'The portrait of John Constable's mother by the artist helps to create another insight into the artist's life and relationships. Now that the attribution has been confirmed as being the original portrait of the artist's mother, dated to 1805, it is a great opportunity to show it alongside portraits of the artist's family and of course his more well known landscapes.'