Lionel Bicknell Constable

Leathes Water (Thirlmere)


Lionel Bicknell Constable 1828–1887
Oil paint on paper on board
Support: 244 x 394 mm
Bequeathed by George Salting 1910

Not on display

Display caption

Like ‘Near Stoke-by-Nayland’ (also on display), this work was thought until the 1970s to be by Constable who visited the Lake District in 1806. It is now thought to be by Lionel, Constable’s son, who may have gone there in 1851 on his way to or from Scotland. The purple tones on the hills and in the sky are untypical of John Constable but are found in a number of paintings by Lionel. The rediscovery of paintings by Lionel, in particular, have led to doubts over the authenticity of other Lakeland subjects by Constable.

Gallery label, May 2007

Catalogue entry

N02662 Leathes Water (Thirlmere)

Oil on paper, 9 9/16×15 1/2 (24.3×39.4), originally glued to an oak panel but transferred to synthetic board 1958.
Prov: ...; bequeathed by George Salting to the National Gallery 1910; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919. Accession N02662.
Exh: Agnew's 1910(255); A Decade of English Naturalism 1810–1820, Norwich Castle Museum 1969 and Victoria & Albert Museum 1970(3).
Lit: Holmes 1910, p.80; Shirley 1937, pp.lxiii, lxxxiv (as not by Constable); Chamot 1956, p.258; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Cumberland(3) No.8; Hoozee 1979, No.593 (attributed to Lionel Constable).

Constable paid his first and only visit to the Lake District in September and October 1806.1 The seven weeks he spent there are fairly well documented and over seventy watercolours and drawings made on the tour have survived. Very little is known, however, of the oil paintings of Lakeland subjects made on (if any actually were) or following the visit. Ten of Constable's exhibits at the Royal Academy and British Institution between 1807 and 1809 bore Lake District titles but none of these works has ever been convincingly identified. In recent years only about six oils of such subjects have generally been accepted as his at all.2 The rediscovery of paintings by Constable's son Lionel which have features in common with some of these has cast doubt even on this small number.

No.45 is particularly close to Lionel's work in its colour. The purple tones on the hills and in the sky are untypical of John Constable but are found in such paintings by Lionel as ‘Looking over to Harrow’ (Yale Center for British Art, Fig.3 to No.53 below), ‘Bridge on the Mole’ (Johnson Collection, Philadelphia, Fig.6 to No.53 below) and two studies of the Cornish coast near Looe (Coll. Mrs E. Constable). The handling of the rocks in No.45 is also close to Lionel's in his Cornish studies. In addition, Richard Constable, great great grandson of John, has recently discovered a note made by his grandfather, Hugh, in about 1948 stating that No.45 is ‘certainly by Lionel’. It is not known, however, whether Hugh Constable made this attribution on stylistic grounds or whether he had access to documentation which has since been lost.

Although there seems to be a strong possibility that No.45 is by Lionel Constable, the compiler prefers to leave the question open for the time being, in the hope that more conclusive evidence will be found. It is worth bearing in mind, in any case, that No.45 certainly depicts Thirlmere, or Leathes Water as it was formerly known,3 and that John Constable made at least two drawings of this lake on his 1806 visit, one now in the V.&A. (R.94) and the other at Ipswich (No.1925–113). No record has yet been found of Lionel visiting the Lake District, though in a letter written on a tour of Derbyshire and Lancashire he mentions seeing Helvellyn in the distance.4

1. For accounts of Constable's visit see TG 1976, under No.69, and Daphne Foskett, John Harden of Brathay Hall 1772–1847, 1974, pp.29–31.

2. Apart from No.45, the following have been widely accepted: ‘Lake District Scene’ (Private Collection, TG 1976 No.77, H.37); ‘Lake District Scene’ (Coll. Dr Matilda Winternitz, exh. Landscape in Britain c. 1750–1850, Tate Gallery 1973–4, No.222; H.36); ‘Bowfell and Langdale Pikes’ (with Spink & Son Ltd. 1977, TG 1976 No.80, H.35); ‘Keswick Lake’ (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, TG 1976 No.79, H.602); ‘Keswick Lake’ (Yale Center for British Art, H.38).

3. Mr Ewing Simpson and Captain S.H. Badrock kindly investigated the viewpoint in 1977. Their findings are confirmed by nineteenth-century engravings of the lake, for example, ‘Leaths Water’ after William Westall, published by Ackermann & Co. in 1834. No.45 is a view southwards from somewhere on the west shore of the lake. John Constable's two surviving drawings of the lake were made at its southern end, looking in the opposite direction to No.45.

4. Letter dated 5 June without year to Alfred Constable, in the collection of Mrs E. Constable. Lionel mentions visiting Bakewell, Castleton, Glossop, Manchester, Fleetwood and Broughton, but he adds: ‘I have done no sketches’.

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