Catalogue entry

N01236 Hampstead Heath, with the house called ‘The Salt Box’ Circa 1820

Oil on canvas, 15 1/8×26 5/16 (38.4×66.8).
Inscribed: a damaged label on the stretcher is inscribed 'Salt Box Hampstead Heath Painted by John Consta[able] Lined [...]'.

Prov: presented by Isabel Constable to the National Gallery 1887; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1962. Accession N01236.
Exh: R.A. Old Masters 1878(248); Leeds 1913(72); Golden Gate Exhibition, San Francisco 1939(125); Venice 1950(12); Le Paysage Anglais, Orangerie, Paris 1953(8); Tate Gallery 1971 (not in catalogue); Tate Gallery 1976(186).
Lit: Leslie 1845, pp.78–9, 1951, pp.72–3; Holmes 1902, pp.86, 120, 245; Shirley 1937, pp.lxix, 121; Davies 1946, p.26, 1959, pp.16–17; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Middlesex B(10) No.24; Hoozee 1979, No.288.

The Constables first took a house at Hampstead, in addition to their London home, in the late summer of 1819, when they rented Albion Cottage for a few months. Thereafter they rented a house at Hampstead for part of each year, except 1824, finally taking No.6 (now 40) Well Walk on a more permanent basis in 1827.

Constable's earliest surviving painting of a Hampstead subject appears to be a study of Branch Hill Pond in the V.& A. (r.171, h.267, repr. as Fig. 1 to No.29 below), which is inscribed on the stretcher ‘End of Octr. 1819’. It may have been one of the ‘two pictures, studies on Hampstead Heath’ which he showed Farington on 2 November that year. Constable first exhibited paintings of the area at the R.A. in 1821, when he showed a ‘Hampstead Heath’ and a ‘Harrow’. Another ‘Hampstead-heath’ appeared at the R.A. the following year. No.19 and paintings of Hampstead Heath in the V.&A. (Fig. 1, r.323, tg 1976 No.188, h.290)1 and Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Fig.2, tg 1976 No.187, h.289)2 are candidates for these exhibition works but no positive identification has been made.

No.19, however, is certainly one of Constable's first Hampstead pictures. When Isabel Constable presented it to the National Gallery she identified it3 with a painting described by Leslie in the second edition of his Life. The passage follows Leslie's account of the R.A. exhibition of 1818 and precedes his comments on the year 1819:

‘Constable’ art was never more perfect, perhaps never so perfect, as at this period of his life. I remember being greatly struck by a small picture, a view from Hampstead Heath, which I first saw at Ruysdael House, as Mr. Fisher called his [Constable's] residence in Keppel Street. I have before noticed that what are commonly called warm colours are not necessary to produce the impression of warmth in landscape; and this picture affords, to me, the strongest possible proof of the truth of this. The sky is of the blue of an English summer day, with large, but not threatening, clouds of a silvery whiteness. The distance is of a deep blue, and the near trees and grass of the freshest green; for Constable could never consent to parch up the verdure of nature to obtain warmth. These tints are balanced by a very little warm colour on a road and gravel pit in the foreground, a single house in the middle distance, and the scarlet jacket of a labourer. Yet I know no picture in which the mid-day heat of Midsummer is so admirably expressed; and were not the eye refreshed by the shade thrown over a great part of the foreground by some young trees, that border the road, and the cool blue of water near it, one would wish, in looking at it, for a parasol, as Fuseli wished for an umbrella when standing before one of Constable's showers. I am writing of this picture, which appears to have been wholly painted in the open air, after an acquaintance with it of five-and-twenty years...’

Leslie says he first saw the painting at Keppel Street, where Constable lived from June 1817 to June 1822, and that he is writing of it after an acquaintance of twenty-five years. As the passage first occurs in the 1845 edition of the Life, Leslie had presumably known the painting since about 1820.

The view is from somewhere near the Branch Hill end of Judges' Walk, looking roughly north. Branch Hill Pond can be seen at the right and the spire of Harrow church in the extreme distance at the left. The site of ‘The Salt Box’, seen here in the centre middle-distance, is now occupied by a house called ‘The Grange’.

At some date after Constable's death No.19 was relined on a slightly wider stretcher and the painting extended to cover the newly exposed strips at the left and right. The picture is now framed so as to mask these additions, which include, at the right, a figure based on the labourer standing beside the foremost cart in the Fitzwilliam Museum picture referred to above. The latter work presents a view from near Whitestone Pond, looking in more or less the same direction as in No.19. Harrow again appears in the distance at the extreme left. The other Hampstead Heath picture mentioned earlier - V.&A., r.323 - presents an almost complementary view in the opposite direction, taken from near the Vale of Health pond. These two and No.19 all appear to date from Constable's first years at Hampstead.

The views over Branch Hill Pond became some of Constable's favourite Hampstead subjects. Later treatments are Nos 29, 30 and 42 below. An oil sketch in the V.&A. (r.227) depicts ‘The Salt Box’ from closer to and from a different angle.

1. Oil on canvas, 21×30 1/2 (53.3×77.6).

2. Oil on canvas, 21 1/4×30 1/4 (54×76.9).

3. In a letter of 29 October 1887 to the then Director of the National Gallery, Sir Frederic Burton (National Gallery archives).

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