John Constable

Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath, with a Boy Sitting on a Bank


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Not on display

John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 333 × 502 mm
frame: 579 × 747 × 105 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900

Display caption

By the early nineteenth century the open landscape of Hampstead Heath, north of London, was increasingly appreciated as a refuge from the ever more crowded and polluted city. This is one of many views
of the Heath that Constable painted.
His picture revels in the wildness of the landscape, both in the choice of scene and in the freedom of his painting style.
It was created for his friend, the actor
Jack Bannister, who, the artist reported, wanted a landscape in which he could 'feel the wind blowing on his face'.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

N01813 Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath, with a boy sitting on a bank Circa 1825

Oil on canvas, 13 3/4×19 1/4 (33.3×50.2).

Inscribed by Henry Vaughan on a label now removed from the back and separately preserved: ‘Bought at Jack Banister's Sale in his late house: Great Russell Street by H Vaughan’.1 Over this was stuck another label, probably not in Vaughan's hand, repeating the same information.
Prov: acquired from the artist by John Bannister at some date after November 1825 (see text below) and in his sale, Foster & Sons 28 March 1849(87), bt. Henry Vaughan £45. 3s.; bequeathed by Vaughan to the National Gallery 1900; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919. Accession N01813.
Exh: Tate Gallery 1937(p.14, No.15); Constable and his Contemporaries, Burgh House, Well Walk, Hampstead 1951(10).
Lit: Holmes 1902, pp.235, 246; Shirley 1937, p.157; Chamot 1956, p.261; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Middlesex B (5) No.11; Hoozee 1979, No.461.

Apart from a number of paintings and sketches in which Branch Hill Pond is seen from a variety of angles (for example, Nos 19–20 above), Constable produced what might be called a standard Branch Hill Pond composition, presenting a view to the west and south-west over the pond. Two types of this often repeated composition can be distinguished: type A, in which a bank rises steeply across the right foreground, partially obscuring the distant view, and type B, in which the viewpoint is higher and a wider horizon is visible above a small plateau. Examples of type A are a sketch in the V.&A. dated 1819 (Fig. 1, R.171, .267),2 the present work, No.29, a painting in the V.&A. which was exhibited in 1828 (R.301, TG 1976 No.254, H.481), and No.42 below. Type B is seen in a painting in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, exhibited in 1825 (Fig. 1 to No.30 below), in a version of the Virginia picture in the Oskar Reinhart Collection (Fig.2 to No.30), and in No.30 below, where fuller reference is made to the Virginia and Reinhart paintings. Other versions of both types are known.

Constable was involved with the Branch Hill Pond composition in one form or another from 1819 to 1836, when No.42 below was painted. He also chose one of the versions of it, the painting of 1828 now in the V.&A., for Lucas to engrave for English Landscape (Shirley 1930, No.23). The present example, No.29, clearly derives from the sketch of 1819 mentioned earlier, but it is difficult to say how long afterwards it was painted. The picture was acquired from Constable by Jack (John) Bannister, the comedy actor (1760–1836), who in his youth had been a student in the Royal Academy Schools and who still maintained a lively interest in painting. Bannister called on Constable on 23 November 1825 and, the artist wrote to his wife, ‘saw all my goings on he is so fond of my Landscapes he says he must have one - I think he likes the lock so much that I shall reduce it to a size about like fishers old mill - I shall see but Mr B- say3 he must possess one how I shall please him or When I do not know - he say he breaths my pictures they are more than fresh they are exhilarating’ (JCC II, p.411). A few days later Constable gave Fisher a similar account: ‘I have just had a visit from Mr. Bannister to request a landscape. He has long desired one of me, in which, he says, he can feel the wind blowing on his face. He says my landscape has something in it beyond freshness, it's life, exhilaration&c.’ (JCC VI, p.211). There was no ‘Lock’ in the sale of Bannister's pictures. The only Constable included was the present picture, which Bannister must therefore have acquired at some time after 23 November 1825. Whether he got an old work or whether Constable painted something especially for him is not indicated in the correspondence, and a date of circa 1825 is accordingly assigned to the picture here. Bannister had a house in Well Walk, Hampstead at this time and Constable therefore became a neighbour when he moved to Well Walk in 1827. They remained great friends until the actor's death in 1836.

1. According to the catalogue, the sale took place at Fosters' gallery, 54 Pall Mall. Bannister, in any case, does not appear to have had a house in Great Russell Street. His pictures were removed by Fosters' from 65 Gower Street, where he had died thirteen years earlier. Probably Vaughan wrote the label some time after the event and forgot the precise circumstances. That the label is in his hand is confirmed by comparison with a letter from him to Lionel Constable in the collection of Mrs E. Constable.

2. Oil on canvas, 10×11 7/8 (25.4×30.2); inscribed on the stretcher ‘End of Octr. 1819’.

3. Writing at speed in the journal he sent in instalments to his wife in Brighton, Constable seems to lapse here into the sort of ‘Suffolkism’ described by Norman Scarfe in ‘Constable and Vernacular Speech’ (JC: FDC, pp.343–4), where further examples of the artist using ‘say’ for ‘says’ are quoted.

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

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