John Constable

Gillingham Bridge, Dorset


John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 321 x 514 mm
frame: 490 x 685 x 65 mm
Presented by Miss Isabel Constable 1888

Not on display

Display caption

In 1811 Dr John Fisher introduced his nephew, John Fisher, to Constable. The younger Fisher became the artist’s closest friend, providing moral and financial support whenever they were needed and often purchasing works from Constable which he could ill afford. In 1819 Fisher became Vicar of Gillingham in Dorset and Constable was invited to stay there in 1820 and again in 1823. On the second occasion he painted this picture of the bridge with the village church beyond. Fisher’s son Osmond later recalled seeing Constable ‘sitting with his easel in the meadow at the right hand corner’.

Gallery label, May 2007

Catalogue entry

N01244 Gillingham Bridge, Dorset 1823

Oil on canvas, 12 1/2×20 1/4 (32.1×51.5).

Prov: presented by Isabel Constable to the National Gallery 1888; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1897. Accession N01244.
Exh: Tate Gallery 1976(221).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.245; Shirley 1937, pp.lxvii, 157; Chamot 1956, p.261; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Dorset(4) No.5; Hoozee 1979, No.372.

The entry on No.13 mentioned that Constable's close friend Archdeacon John Fisher held the living of Osmington on the Dorset coast and that the newly married Constables spent part of their honeymoon there in 1816. In 1819 the Vicarage of Gillingham on the other side of the county was added to Fisher's benefices. Constable went there with him briefly in July 1820, during the course of a long visit by the Constables to the Fishers at Salisbury. Drawings made on this excursion include one of a different bridge to that seen in No.25 (British Museum, 1910–2–12–229, repr. Day 1975, pl.71; see also V.&A., R.192). Constable's only other visit to Gillingham was in 1823, when, without his family, he stayed there with the Fishers from 22 August until 10 September. In a letter to Maria, postmarked 8 September, Constable wrote: ‘I shall wait here 'till wednesday to get a “line only from you”. and it will enable me to make a little picture of this village rather more compleat it is for fisher-a present to his mother-I shall bring it to London-this is to be paid for’ (JCC II, p.288). The picture mentioned is almost certainly No.25. Constable's only other paintings of Gillingham depict Perne's Mill, about a mile from the village. Since No.25 descended to Isabel Constable, Fisher presumably changed his mind about buying the work. His cousin Dorothea, Bishop Fisher's daughter, did however borrow it in April and May 1824 to make a copy, to which there are numerous references in the Constable correspondence between April and July that year.1 Dorothea's copy, which Constable said he ‘retouched a little’, is presumably the painting sold by the Fisher family at Sotheby's on 4 December 1957(152) and now in an American private collection (Fig.1).2 On a label on the back Archdeacon Fisher's son Osmond wrote that he could ‘perfectly recollect seeing him [Constable] sitting with his easel in the meadow at the right hand corner of this picture’ and he also indicated that he had found the painting among his father's effects. Possibly Dorothea gave it to the Archdeacon after he failed to acquire the original.

Another copy of No.25, in an upright format, was in the collection of F.H. Clarke, London (photograph in the Witt Library, Courtauld Institute of Art).

In No.25 Constable omitted the small spire which can be seen on the church tower in one of his 1820 drawings (V.&A., R.189). According to Beckett (JCC VI, p.54), the spire did not actually go until 1838.

1. JCC II, pp.318, 346, 355, VI, pp.156, 160, 163, 168.

2. Oil on canvas, 20 1/4×31 (52×78.7).

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


You might like