John Constable

Brightwell Church and Village

1815

Artist
John Constable 1776–1837
Medium
Oil paint on wood
Dimensions
Support: 155 x 228 mm
frame: 330 x 404 x 55 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, the Art Fund, the Wolfson Trust and National Westminster Bank 1980
Reference
T03121

Not on display

Display caption

This painting was commissioned in 1815 by the Revd FH Barnwell, a Suffolk antiquary who took a particular interest in the village of Brightwell near Ipswich. It shows the view looking north towards the church and includes, on the right, a farm formed from the outbuildings of the demolished Brightwell Hall. Constable rarely undertook commissions of this kind and the result is unlike any of his other works. It is as small as the oil sketches he made for his own reference, but as highly finished as any of his exhibition pictures.

Gallery label, May 2007

Catalogue entry

T03121 BRIGHTWELL CHURCH AND VILLAGE 1815

Inscribed ‘Brightwell Nr Ipswich (?)’ in a later hand on the back
Oil on panel, 6 1/8 × 9 (15.5 × 22.8)
Purchased from the Covent Garden Gallery Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, the National Art-Collections Fund, the Wolfson Foundation and the National Westminster Bank Ltd, 1980
Prov: Commissioned by the Revd Frederick Henry Barnwell 1815; by 1829 in the possession of Sir Robert Harland, Bart., who died 1847; his widow died 1860 but it is not known whether the painting passed to her;...; the Lewis-May family by about 1915; C. Lewis-May, sold Bonham's (Old Chelsea Galleries) 6 June 1978 (414, as English School), bt Nicholas Drummond and sold by him to William Drummond, Covent Garden Gallery Ltd.
Exh: Summer Exhibition, William Drummond, Covent Garden Gallery Ltd, 1980(1).
Lit: F.H. Turnor Barnwell, ‘Topographical Notices of Brightwell, Suffolk’, The Gentleman's Magazine, XCIX, pt.11, 1829, pp.209–10; Geraldine Norman, ‘Constable that two auctioneers failed to spot’, The Times, 30 May 1980; David Leitch, ‘The Constable that cost £41.80, plus VAT’, The Sunday Times Magazine, 1 June 1980; Ian Fleming-Williams, ‘John Constable at Brightwell: A Newly Discovered Painting’, The Connoisseur, CCIV, 1980, pp.130–3; Leslie Parris, The Tate Gallery Constable Collection, 1981, pp.203–5, no.12a, repr.in colour.

Brightwell lies about five miles east of Ipswich. The view in Constable's painting is from the south side of the village, looking northwards to the church of St John the Baptist. In the right middle-distance is a farm formed from the outbuildings of Brightwell Hall, a large brick mansion pulled down in the mid-eighteenth century.

T03121 was commissioned by the Revd Frederick Henry Barnwell (later Turnor Barnwell) of Bury St Edmunds, an antiquary who appears to have taken a special interest in the village of Brightwell. Constable mentioned the work in a letter to Maria Bicknell begun at East Bergholt on 13 July 1815: 'On monday 31st inst I am going for a day or two from home - to meet a Gentleman (the Rid. Mr Barnwell of Bury) at a village (Brightwell) near woodbridge to take a view for him - of the Church as it appears above a wood-’ (R.B. Beckett, John Constable's Correspondence, 11, 1964, pp.146–7). The painting was probably executed on 1 and 2 August. Dated drawings show Constable's return home via Woodbridge on 3 August (Ipswich Borough Council; repr. Harold Day, John Constable Drawings, 1975, pl.47), Framlingham on 5 August (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Reg Gadney, John Constable ... Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolours ... in the Fitzwillian Museum ..., 1976, no.15) and Ipswich the same day (V.&A., Graham Reynolds, Catalogue of the Constable Collection, 1973, no.139). On 27 August he told Maria he had received ‘a very agreable letter’ from Barnwell, who was ‘most pleased with the little picture’ (Beckett, op.cit., 11, p.150). Barnwell wrote again to Constable on 4 October, recalling that he had last written on 7 August immediately upon his return to Bury St Edmunds, which had been ‘within a day or two after we parted at Woodbridge’. He recollected ‘with much pleasure the agreeable hours past in your Company’. The main purpose of his letter, however, was to order a frame for the Brightwell picture: ‘You have a panel, the exact size of my little landscape, and therefore will not (I presume) have occasion to have the picture sent for the purpose of a frame. It is my wish to have a rich, handsome, frame, but not so large as is the present fashion. I object not to this on the score of price, but on account of the heavy appearance - and should like to have one, the pattern of that which was made for my portrait, of which I will ere long send you a drawing’ (Beckett, op.cit., IV, 1966, pp.86–7).

In 1829 Barnwell wrote an article on Brightwell for The Gentleman's Magazine in which he said he owned 'a water-coloured drawing from an elevated spot on the south side of the village leading to Nacton, copied from an oil painting by Mr. Constable, of Upper Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-square, in possession of Sir Robert Harland’. It is not yet known how or when Barnwell disposed of the painting, i.e. T03121, to Harland, but the latter's interest in the subject is understandable. He lived nearby at Orwell Park and had inherited the Brightwell Hall estate from his brother-in-law, John Vernon, in or around 1818.

A watercolour version of T03121 is in a private collection (exh. Summer Exhibition, Covent Garden Galley 1980, but not in catalogue). Because of the very poor condition of this work, it is difficult to reach a conclusion about its relationship to Constable's oil painting. It does not appear to be the copy mentioned by Barnwell in his article. A note made in 1883 by Robert Maderson and attached to the watercolour claims that it was painted by Constable in 1813 and given as soon as finished to the writer's father, John Maderson, who had been born in the house seen in the right foreground. The note identifies the two figures on the road going up to the church as Barnwell and John Maderson's sister Sarah. Robert Maderson was presumably mistaken when he said the watercolour was made in 1813 but his account has to be taken seriously nevertheless.

Although a few other commissioned landscapes by Constable are known, none is on the miniature scale of the Brightwell picture. In size it relates to the oil studies and sketches Constable made for his own reference, yet it is highly finished, almost jewel-like in appearance. The small size of the work combined with its high degree of finish make it a unique picture in Constable's oeuvre.

T03121 was identified as Constable's painting of Brightwell by William Drummond, whose discovery of the picture is related in the newspaper articles listed at the beginning of this entry.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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