John Constable

Dedham from near Gun Hill, Langham


On display at Tate Britain

John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on paper on canvas
Support: 251 x 305 mm
frame: 296 x 351 x 36 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900

Display caption

This view, looking eastwards towards Dedham and the Stour estuary from near Gun Hill in Langham, was one of Constable's favourite subjects. In most of his representations the tower of St Mary's church, Dedham forms a conspicuous feature in the distance. As Constable himself once remarked, the church looked especially striking from this elevated viewpoint. Yet, in his later work in particular, Constable often included a church in the distance of his landscapes for its symbolic associations. It represented for him a religious and social focus in the traditional rural world. 

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

N01822 Dedham from near Gun Hill, Langham Circa 1810

Oil on paper laid on canvas, 9 7/8×12 (25.1×30.5)

Prov: ...; bequeathed by Henry Vaughan to the National Gallery 1900; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1962. Accession N01822.
Exh: Leeds 1913(66).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.241; Shirley 1937, p.36; Davies 1946, p.33; Davies 1959, p.19; Beekett 1961, Paintings: Essex (15) No.38; Hoozee 1979, No.78.

The views eastward down the Stour valley from the hills between Langham church and Gun Hill were favourites of Constable's from an early date. His first depiction of such a view is a watercolour of 1800 (Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, tg 1976 No.22) and his last the great ‘Dedham Vale’ of 1828 (National Gallery of Scotland, tg 1976 No.253, h.480). As Beckett noted, Constable treated the subject in two distinct ways. In what may be called type A, the viewpoint or, rather, viewpoints are on The Coombs, a wooded slope above the Gun Hill road. Stratford St Mary bridge lies directly below it but is sometimes obscured by trees in Constable's treatments of the subject.1 The 1828 picture mentioned above is probably the best known example of type A. In type B, the viewpoint is closer to Langham church. A gully separates a meadow in the foreground from a group of trees and a building in the middle distance on the right. It is this version of the subject that appears in English Landscape as ‘Summer Morning’ (see No.12 below). In both types the tower of Dedham church is a conspicuous feature, with the Stour estuary in the extreme distance to the left of it.2

Type A exists in vertical and horizontal formats. The 1828 ‘Dedham Vale’ and the study of 1802 upon which it was largely based (V.&A., r.37, tg 1976 No.33, h.15) are examples of the former. No.8 is one of the horizontal treatments. Others are three small, and very similar, drawings, one in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Fig.1, Gadney No.8),3 another in the Fondazione Horne, Florence (Collobi No.48) and the third in an English private collection.4 An oil painting formerly in the Fison Collection and now in another private collection (Fig.2, h.32)5 appears to be based on one or other of these drawings. The viewpoint adopted for No.8 differs slightly from that used for the ex-Fison picture and its related drawings, being a little further down the hill and also more to the right, so that Stratford St Mary bridge is obscured by trees. The unfinished ‘Valley of the Stour’ (c. 1805 or later) in the V.&A. (r.63, tg 1976 No.55, h.31) is another horizontal version of the subject, but from a still lower viewpoint. A sketchbook in the Louvre (rf 11615), apparently used in 1810–11,6 contains another example of type A in its horizontal form.7

A date of circa 1810 is assigned here to No.8 in the absence (or so it seems to the compiler) of any closely comparable dated sketches. Holmes and Shirley suggested 1809, Beckett circa 1805 and Hoozee circa 1809.

1. For The Coombs, which is apparently a modern name for the spot, see Sheet tm03 of the O.S. 1:25,000 map (grid. ref. 039 335). See also Smart and Brooks 1976, pp.120–1, 139–40 for discussion of the viewpoint.

2. Another variation on the view is seen in an oil sketch at Stuttgart, h.154, which is dated 12 July 1813. The view is taken from the road on Gun Hill. Page 6 of the 1814 sketchbook (V.&A., r.132), dated 9 August, seems to show a similar view.

3. Pencil, 2 15/16×3 7/8 (7.5×9.9). The other two drawings mentioned in this sentence are very close in size to this.

4. Formerly in the collection of Percy Moore Turner.

5. Oil on canvas, 19 1/4×23 1/2 (48.9×59.7). Fison sale, Christie's 6 November 1959(24). There is some later reworking in the bottom left corner.

6. Folio 19v has notes by Constable of his weight on 23 August, 24 September and altarpiece of ‘The Agony in the Garden’, a subject Constable gave up in July 1810 in favour of ‘Christ blessing the Sacraments’ (see JCC I, p.45).

7. Folio 17v. Folio tr is related but does not seem to fall into either of the categories, A and B, defined in this entry.

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