Catalogue entry

N01065 A Cornfield with Figures


Oil on canvas, 9 3/4×15 3/8 (24.8×40.3).
Inscribed on a label on the stretcher: ‘John Constable. A. Early middle period Associate perhaps the form of the outline foliage marks him’.
Prov: ...; James Hughes Anderdon, sold Christie's 30 May 1879 (107; the sale stencil is on the stretcher), bt. Barton, £27.6s., for the National Gallery; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919. Accession N01065.
Exh: Tate Gallery 1937(p.15, No.24); Tate Gallery 1976(359, as ‘Formerly Ascribed to Constable’).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.243; Shirley 1937, p.98; Chamot 1956, pp.258–60; Kitson 1957, pp.344, 355 n.67; Beckett 1961, Paintings: E.Anglia (7) No.21.

John Constable's daughter Isabel is the first person known to have questioned the authenticity of Nos 49 and 50. A note in the Constable family collection by her nephew Hugh reads: ‘Isabel Constable asked Burton [Sir Frederic Burton, Director of the National Gallery] to remove the 2 sham Constables “Barnes Common” & “the gleaners” from the National but he would Not’. Hugh Constable and his son Colonel John Constable were equally certain that the pictures were ‘wrong’. Perhaps in ignorance of family opinion, scholars continued to attribute No.49 to John Constable until the early 1960s. In 1902 Holmes suggested that it might be ‘The wheat field’ which Constable exhibited at the R.A. in 1816 and, as ‘A Harvest Field: Reapers, Gleaners’, at the B.I. the following year. In 1951 Jonathan Mayne pointed out that the size of the B.I. exhibit is recorded as 33×42 inches, including the frame, and put forward the idea that No.49 might instead be a study for the work (Leslie 1951, p.65, footnote); later writers accepted his view. Apart from subject-matter, there now seems almost nothing in No.49 that can be associated with Constable, least of all with his work around 1816.

An oil sketch formerly in the collection of Sir George Agnew (repr. Burlington Magazine, LVII, 1930, p.36) is similar in composition to No.49 and has been cited in support of the attribution of the latter to Constable. Whoever the artist of the Agnew sketch might be, he does not, however, seem likely to have been responsible for No.49, which is very different in conception and execution.


Published in:
Leslie Parris, The Tate Gallery Constable Collection, London 1981