Catalogue entry

John Constable 1776-1837

T04135 Beaching a Boat, Brighton 1824

Oil on paper laid on canvas 248 x 294 (9 3/4 x 11 9/16)
Presented by Mrs P.M. Rainsford 1986
Prov: By descent to the artist's daughter Isabel Constable (1822-88), by whose executor sold at Christie's 17 June 1892 (254 as 'A Coast Scene, with fishing boat': label with this title and recording Isabel's ownership formerly on stretcher and now separately preserved) £32.11s. bt Dowdeswell; ...; P.A. Chéramy, Paris by 1902, when repr. in Magazine of Art; his sale, Georges Petit, Paris 5-7 May 1908 (19 as 'Pêcheurs amenant un bateau de pêche sur la rive'); ...; 'Mr Meyer', from whom bt by Leger, Jan. 1962 and sold to Broadway Art Gallery, Broadway, Worcs., Feb. 1962; bt there the same month by Mrs Rainsford
Exh: ? A Century of British Art (Second Series) , Grosvenor Gallery 1889 (276 as 'Beaching the Boat')
Lit: Henry Frantz, 'English Pictures in France: M. Chéramy's Collection', Magazine of Art, 1902, p.110, repr. p.109 in general view of collection; Julius Meier-Graefe, Entwickelungsgeschichte der modernen Kunst, Stuttgart 1904, I, p.212, III, pl.92; Julius Meier-Graefe, Modern Art, trans. Florence Simmonds and George W. Chrystal, London and New York 1908, I, p.129, repr. opp. p.128; Julius Meier-Graefe and E. Klossowski, La Collection Chéramy, Munich 1908, pp.60-1 no.52, repr.; L. Parris, I. Fleming-Williams, C. Shields, Constable: Paintings, Watercolours & Drawings, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1976, 2nd ed., pp. 139 under no. 232, 149, 204 under 1824 n.1, 206 under no.232; Robert Hoozee, L'opera completa di Constable, Milan 1979, no.426, repr.; Leslie Parris, The Tate Gallery Constable Collection, 1981, pp.124, 125 fig.5, 127 n.6; Graham Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London 1984, no.24.64, pl.536. Also repr: Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, 1986, p.58 (col.)

Constable first visited Brighton in 1824 when he took his wife Maria there for the sake of her health. She returned in subsequent years and Constable paid her frequent visits, taking the opportunity at the same time to paint and draw in the area. 'Beaching a Boat, Brighton' almost certainly dates from one of the visits Constable made in 1824, most likely from his second one in early June. The Victoria and Albert Museum's 'Brighton Beach, with s Fishing Boat and Crew', dated 10 June that year, is very similar in subject and colour and is painted on paper of more or less the same size (Reynolds 1984, no.24.8. p1.482 in col.). Another V. & A. example, 'Brighton Beach' of 12 June, is painted on paper of much the same width but half the height (ibid., no.24.9, p1.485 in col.). Like T04135 it is also painted over two grounds, the lower one pale blue, the upper purple-brown. It is not yet clear why Constable used these two grounds in conjunction or whether examples from other years exist. Like both the V. & A. sketches mentioned above, T04135 is painted on a sheet of paper which Constable had previously glued to a slightly smaller and less regular sheet, creating the vertical ridge seen 15 mm from the right side. The underlying sheet is thicker and coarser than the upper. Again, the reasons for this practice are not yet clear, though it is certainly not limited to works of 1824.

Constable used T04135, along with other oil sketches and drawings, when he came to paint his only largc Brighton picture, 'Chain Pier, Brighton', exhibited at the RA in 1827 and now in the Tate Gallery (Parris 1981, no.32, repr. in col.; Reynolds 1984, no.27.1, pl.633 in col.). The boat-beaching scene and the watching figure on the left were copied into the bottom right-hand corner of a preparatory half-size sketch now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Reynolds 1984, no.27.4, p1.636; Richard Dorment, British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia 1986, no.12, repr. in col.). In the final painting, however, Constable moved the boat out to sea and stationed the watching man further along the beach. This man, with his distinctive yellow hat, would seem at first to be some sort of customs official or coastguard, perhaps one of the 'preventive service men (with hangers & pistols)' whose presence on the beach Constable noted in a letter of 1824, but according to the Librarian and Archivist of HM Customs and Excise then is no evidence that the preventive men wore yellow hats and in any case the Sussex coast at this time was manned not by them but by the Coast Blockade Service, whose men seem to have worn flatter hats with a ribbon round the crown. Nevertheless, the man in this sketch appears to occupy a position of authority in relation to the fishermen beaching their boat; the object under his arm certainly looks more threatening than an umbrella.

T04135 achieved some celebrity while in the Chéramy Collection in Paris during the early years of the present century. It was one of the finest oil sketches by Constable then on the Continent, at a time when he was being hailed as a father figure of modern painting. For Henri Frantz, writing in 1902, it 'anticipated and surpassed Courbet's fine marine paintings' but Julius Meier-Graefe, who reproduced the work in his influential Modern Art in 1904 (English translation 1908), was soon making greater claims for its modernity: 'Things like this little Coast Scene are the first evidences of that conception of Nature which we call Impressionism, and give indications of everything that Manet brought into the same domain'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.21-2