Lionel Bicknell Constable

Near Stoke-by-Nayland


Oil paint on canvas
Support: 356 x 445 mm
frame: 560 x 650 x 100 mm
Bequeathed by George Salting 1910

Display caption

At least five of Constable’s seven children also drew or painted. Two of them, Alfred Abram and Lionel Bicknell, specialised in landscape and exhibited examples of their work at the Royal Academy during the 1840s and 1850s. Lionel, who was also a photographer, modelled his art on his father's. This was one of a number of paintings which, until the late 1970s, was mistakenly thought to have been painted by John Constable himself. In fact Lionel's touch was more tentative than his father's, and the overall effect of his work was more decorative.

Gallery label, May 2007

Catalogue entry

N02649 ‘Near Stoke-by-Nayland’ Circa 1850

Oil on canvas, 14×17 1/2 (35.6×44.5).
Prov: possibly one of the works acquired from John Constable's grandchildren by Leggatt's and included in their 1899 Constable exhibition (see below); George Salting by 1902 when listed as his in Holmes 1902; bequeathed by Salting to the National Gallery 1910; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1968. Accession N02649.
Exh: ? Pictures & Water-Colour Drawings by John Constable, R.A., Leggatt's 1899 (40, ‘At Stoke by Neyland, Suffolk’);1 Agnew's 1910(10); Tate Gallery 1971(93).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.241, 1910, p.80; Shirley 1937, p.36; Davies 1946, p.33, 1959, p.20; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Suffolk A(14) No.27; Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, ‘Which Constable?’, The Burlington Magazine, CXX, 1978, pp.566–79; Hoozee 1979, No.585.

The attribution of No.53, previously given to John Constable, was changed in 1978 following the publication of the article in The Burlington Magazine mentioned above. This article reviewed the known work of Lionel Constable in the Constable family collection, used documentary evidence to identify paintings and drawings by him in other collections and attributed further works to him on stylistic grounds. No.53 came within the latter category. The features which chiefly distinguish it from the work of John Constable but which can be found in paintings by Lionel are as follows.

1. There is less interest in the structure of trees and a tendency to mask their anatomy with flat areas of foliage which cannot easily be related to the trunk and branches. (In the principal group of trees in No.53 it is almost impossible to see which leaf mass belongs to which tree.) Where they are visible, branches tend to fall into gently curving, rather decorative shapes, which convey little impression of weight. No.53 may be compared in these respects with Lionel's ‘Tottenham Park’ of 1850 (Fig.1 and, detail, Fig.2)2 and with ‘Looking over to Harrow’ (Fig.3 and, detail, Fig.4).3

2. The foreground of No.53, especially at the left side, is dealt with in a way that is very typical of Lionel but not at all of his father. Similar areas of brown underpaint with flowers and tall, light and dark grasses scattered over them can be seen in ‘Looking over to Harrow’ (Fig.3), ‘On the Sid near Sidmouth’ (Fig.5)4 and, in a more restrained form, in the two versions of ‘Bridge on the Mole’ (Fig.6 shows the Philadelphia version).5 Some of the grasses in these works have a distinctive, calligraphic shape that is almost a Lionelian signature: see the details from respectively No.53, ‘Looking over to Harrow’ and ‘On the Sid near Sidmouth’ reproduced in Figs7–9.

3. The pinky-mauve tones in the sky of No.53 are also characteristic of Lionel and can be found in two studies by him of the Cornish coast,6 in the Philadelphia ‘Bridge on the Mole’ (Fig.6) and in ‘Looking over to Harrow’ (Fig.3).

4. Other features of No.53 which point to Lionel rather than his father are the mole-hills near the cart at the right, which appear too neatly spaced out, and the three figures in the centre middle-distance, which, again, seem too regimented. John Constable handled such details more subtly: see the distant figures of reapers in ‘The Hay Wain’, for example.

After the publication of the 1978 article Richard Constable, great great grandson of John Constable, discovered that his grandfather, Hugh, had attributed No.53 to Lionel Constable in his copy of André Fontainas' Constable (1927), where the work is reproduced as plate 24. It is not known what led Hugh Constable to this conclusion, however. Further evidence for Lionel's authorship is provided by the related drawing, No.54 below, and is discussed in the entry on it.

There are traces of squaring-up beneath the paint surface of No.53, which was presumably copied from the nearly identical, if rather less sparkling, version now in the Neue Pinakothek, Munich (Fig.10).7 The absence from the latter of the cart, mole-hills and all but one of the birds seen in the Tate picture may support the idea that the Munich version was painted first and that No.53 is Lionel's later elaboration of the composition. Close comparison of the two paintings, incidentally, leaves little doubt that they are by the same hand.

Two other works by Lionel depict the same subject as No.53 and the Munich painting: an oil study in a private collection8 and a drawing, No.54 below. It is not clear whether either was used in the preparation of the paintings.

No.53 was called ‘At Stoke by Nayland’ by George Salting, its first certain owner (Salting notebooks, National Gallery). The title was later modified to ‘Near Stoke-by-Nayland’, presumably because nothing of the village could be seen in the picture. The title may record the true identity of the locality depicted but there is no feature in the composition which would make confirmation of this possible today.

Lionel Constable appears to have been active as a painter only from the late 1840s to the mid-1850s. An approximate date of circa 1850 is accordingly given to No.53 here.

1. George Salting gave No.53 more or less the same title: ‘At Stoke by Nayland’ (Salting notebooks, National Gallery). A reference to Leggatt's No.40 in The Times of 22 November 1899 is also compatible with No.53: it was described as one of the ‘practically finished’ small pictures as distinct from one of the ‘mere “impressions”’.

2. Coll. Mrs E. Constable. Oil on canvas, 18 1/4×14 1/16 (46.4×35.9). Exh. R.A. 1850 (630).

3. Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art. Oil on canvas, 13 1/2×17 (34.3×43.2). Attributed to Lionel Constable partly on stylistic grounds and partly because it derives from a drawing in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass., which carries an inscription in Lionel's hand. For fuller discussion of this and other works by Lionel Constable mentioned in the above catalogue entry, see the article by Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams cited under Lit..

4. Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art. Oil on paper laid on board, 9 11/16×12 (23.8×30.5). Formerly called ‘Brook, trees and meadows’ and attributed to Lionel Constable on stylistic grounds alone. Following the publication of the 1978 Burlington Magazine article, Charles Rhyne drew the compiler's attention to an inscription on the back of the picture, which reads ‘On the Sid near Sidmouth’. Lionel Constable is known to have visited Cornwall and Somerset, and a visit by him to Sidmouth in Devon would not be surprising. John Constable is not recorded further west than Dorset.

5. John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia. Oil on paper laid on panel, 10 3/8×12 3/8 (26×31.5). A more elaborate version was in the collection of Carroll Carstairs. The two paintings are identifiable as Lionel's because of their close connection with calotypes made by him of the same subject.

6. Coll. Mrs E. Constable; repr. Parris and Fleming-Williams, op. cit., 1978, Figs 15, 17.

7. Oil on paper or canvas, 14×17 9/16 (35.6×44.5).

8. Oil on paper, 8 1/2×11 3/8 (21.6×29.2); formerly in the collection of Sir Frank Newson-Smith, Bart., sold Christie's 26 January 1951(29). Permission to reproduce this work in the present catalogue has unfortunately been withheld.

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