John Constable

Yarmouth Jetty

after 1823

On display at Tate Britain

Oil paint on canvas
Support: 324 x 505 mm
frame: 570 x 747 x 100 mm
Bequeathed by George Salting 1910

Display caption

In the early nineteenth century Yarmouth, like Brighton, became a favoured middle-class resort, and was often painted by Norwich School artists, such as Crome and Cotman (see the Romantic Landscape exhibition). It is not known whether Constable ever visited Yarmouth himself, but this subject was evidently popular with collectors, as he made three, slightly different versions of the scene. One of them was acquired by his doctor, Robert Gooch who, according to Constable, used to place it ‘on the sopha while he breakfasted, as he used to say, on the seashore enjoying its breezes’.  

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

N02650 Yarmouth Jetty After 1823

Oil on canvas, 12 1/2×19 1/2 (32.4×50.5).

Canvas stamp of T.Brown, 163 High Holborn, recorded before relining 1963.
Prov: ...; James Staats Forbes, who died 1904; bt. from his executors by Agnew's, April 1905, and sold the following month to George Salting, by whom bequeathed to the National Gallery 1910; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919. Accession N02650.
Exh: Agnew's 1910(54);1 Tate Gallery 1976(215).
Lit: Holmes 1910, p.85; Chamot 1956, p.260; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Norfolk (2) No.6; Hoozee 1979, No.363.

Only one visit by Constable to Norfolk is recorded, in an anonymous manuscript account of his life which mentions a sketching tour in the 1790s (see JC:FDC, p.142). It is not known whether he visited Great Yarmouth on this or a subsequent occasion, and there is no record of any drawing or oil study which may have formed the basis of his paintings of ‘Yarmouth Jetty’. At least three versions of this composition survive: 1. Private Collection, signed and dated 1822 (Fig. 1, tg 1976 No.213, h.361);2 2. Private Collection (Fig.2, tg 1976 No.214, h.362);3 3. No.26. Because of its inscription and its greater degree of finish, the first of these can reasonably be identified as the ‘Yarmouth Jetty’ which Constable exhibited at the British Institution in January 1823 (148, size of frame 20×27 inches). Constable appears to have sold it by 18 August that year, when he told Fisher ‘I have not a sea peice - or “Windmill Coast Scene” [‘Harwich Lighthouse’: see No.18] “at all”. I gave it to Gooch for his kind attention to my children. Half an hour ago I received a letter from Woodburne to purchase it or one of my seapeices - but I am without one - they are much liked’ (JCC VI, p.128). The earliest recorded owner of the 1823 exhibit is John Gibbons of Corbyns Hall, Staffordshire (1777–1851). He may have purchased the picture at the British Institution in 1823 (which, incidentally, was the year in which he married), or it may have passed through other hands first. The history of the other two pictures is more complicated and it is difficult to positively identify either with the versions Constable is documented as having painted.

On 15 April 1824 Constable told Fisher that he and the Paris dealer John Arrowsmith had agreed a price for ‘The Hay Wain’ and ‘View on the Stour’, adding ‘I shall give him a small seapeice Yarmouth into the bargain’ (JCC VI, p.156). This was probably shown at Arrowsmith's gallery later in the year but its subsequent history is unrecorded. Another version was acquired by Constable's doctor, Robert Gooch, who died in 1830. Writing in 1831 to John Martin, the bibliographer, about a ‘Harwich Lighthouse’ which he wished to sell him (see the entry on No.18), Constable said ‘My poor friend Dr Gooch used to put a similar picture of Yarmouth - which I did for him [-] on the sopha while he breakfasted as he used to say on the seashore enjoying its breezes - that picture is now George Jennings’ (JCC V, p.89). Jennings, an amateur artist, also owned ‘Hampstead Heath with a Rainbow’ (No.42). This was reacquired by the Constable family sometime before 1888 but what became of his ‘Yarmouth’ remains to be discovered. A further version of the composition was exhibited by Constable at the R.A. in 1831 (123, ‘Yarmouth pier’). Again, we have no knowledge of its subsequent history.

The second of the three versions listed at the beginning of this entry can be traced back to the sale of Frederick Winslow Young's pictures in 1857 but the catalogue of that sale made the curious claim that it had ‘passed into the possession of the late Mr. Young, 4 by a bequest from Dr. Gooch, to whom it was presented by the artist’. Gooch is unlikely to have had two versions of the same picture and one must suppose the cataloguer to have been in error; Constable clearly said that Gooch's picture passed to Jennings.

The early history of the Tate version is even more uncertain, its provenance having been traced only to about 1900. It may be Arrowsmith's picture, or the Gooch-Jennings version, or the 1831 R.A. exhibit (if this was a work painted several years before), but so far there is nothing to support any of these identifications. One thing is clear, however: in its present state No.26 is far inferior to the other two surviving versions. To mention only a few features, the understructure of the pier is misunderstood, the boy and horse are crudely painted, and the drawing of the tiny figures on the pier and of the shipping lacks the understanding and finesse seen in the other two pictures. At an unknown date, No.26 suffered damage and was insensitively retouched. Its deficiencies may be the result of this overworking.

‘Yarmouth Jetty’ pictures also appeared in the sale of the Pall Mall Gallery, run by Constable's patron John Allnutt, in 1838, 5 and in that of another early Constable collector, George Oldnall of Worcester, in 1847.6 These may be identical with some of the versions already mentioned or may possibly be additional versions of the ‘much liked’ composition.

Lucas engraved the subject for English Landscape as ‘Yarmouth, Norfolk’ (Shirley 1930, No.18), possibly beginning the plate in September 1831 (JCC IV, p.353). It appeared in the fifth and final number in 1832. We do not know which version he worked from, though as Beckett points out (JCC, loc. cit.), it may have been the picture shown at the R.A. in 1831 (whichever that was). Of the surviving versions, No.26 is in one respect, and one respect only, the closest to the print, since it includes two small figures beyond the furthest beached boat at the left. These occur in the print but not in the other two surviving paintings, where an upturned rowing-boat appears instead. None of the paintings includes the two figures seen standing near the edge of the sea in the print. They seem to derive from one of the figures in ‘Chain Pier, Brighton’, exhibited in 1827 (No.32 below). Constable may have intended to compose a text to accompany the print: a transcription by him survives of two lines from Falconer's The Shipmreck, marked ‘Yarmouth’ (JCD, p.27; JC:FDC, p.41).

As already mentioned in the entry on ‘Harwich Lighthouse’, No.18, Constable used the same sky both for that work, which is also known in several versions, and for ‘Yarmouth Jetty’.

1. When called ‘The pier at Brighton’; Holmes corrected the mistake in his 1910 article.

2. Oil on canvas, 12 1/2×20 (31.7×50.8). Inscribed ‘John Constable pinxt 1822’. Prov: ...; John Gibbons, who died 1851; his son the Revd B.Gibbons, sold Christie's 26 May 1894(6), bt. Agnew for Sir Charles Tennant; by descent in the Tennant family; sold to present owner 1975.

3. Oil on canvas, 13×20 3/8 (33×52.1). Prov: ...;? George Young; his brother Frederick Winslow Young, sold Rushworth & Jarvis 30 January 1857(99), bt. Charles Fishlake Cundy; his nephew the Revd T.S.Cooper; his son O.S. Cundy-Cooper, from whom acquired by Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill; Agnew's 1949; R.P.Silcock; Mrs J.M. Stephens; acquired by a private collector from Leggatt's 1975; now in another private collection.

4. According to notes (still with the picture in 1975) made before the sale by Osbert Cundy, presumably a relative of the Cundy who purchased the picture at the sale, the Mr Young in question was George Young, who is identified in further notes made by T.S.Cooper, a later owner, as a brother of the F.W.Young whose representatives sold the work in 1857.

5. Christie's 20 March 1838 (206).

6. Christie's 16 June 1847 (110).

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