John Constable

Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath, with a Cart and Carters


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John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 537 × 768 mm
frame: 780 × 1005 × 120 mm
Bequeathed by Miss Susan Field 1927

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This is an unfinished version of a picture that Constable first exhibited in 1825. It was acquired after Constable's death by his friend William Purton. An inscription on the back suggests that it was left unfinished deliberately: 'Constable told Purton that the sky so satisfied & pleased him, that he never would touch the canvass again for fear of spoiling it.'

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

N04237 Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath, with a cart and carters Circa 1825

Oil on canvas, 21 15/16×30 1/4 (53.6×76.8).
Inscribed on the stretcher by Edwin W. Field: ‘From Constable's death in 1837 till July 1866 this sketch of Branch Hill pond & Hampstead Heath & the House called the Salt Box, just as it was when Constable and I were Hampstead neighbours & friends, was the property of our common friend William Purton Esq-now of the Woodhouse - Cleobury Mortimer. Mr Purton's name is frequently mentioned in Leslie's life of the painter. - In July 1866 I bought the sketch from Mr. Purton. - Constable told Purton that the sky so satisfied & pleased him, that he never would touch the canvass again for fear of spoiling it. A picture of the same subject in outline, but with a different effect, is in the Kensington Gallery. Edwin W Field Squire's Mount Hampstead November 1866’.
Prov: according to the above inscription, William Purton acquired No.30 on Constable's death in 1837 but this can probably be taken to mean that he bought it at the Constable sale, Foster and Sons 16 May 1838; of Purton's purchases that day, lot 44 (‘Two- Hampstead Heath, and Waterloo Bridge’, £4. 14s. 6d.) is the only one known to have included a Hampstead view; sold by Purton to Edwin Field July 1866 (see inscription); bequeathed to the National Gallery by Miss Susan Field 1927; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1968. Accession N04237.
Exh: English Romantic Art, Arts Council touring exhibition (Leeds, Hull, Harrogate, Derby, Cardiff, Bristol) 1947 (30); exhibited in the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion, Festival of Britain 1951.
Lit: Davies 1946, pp.37–9, 1959, pp.25–7; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Middlesex B (7) No.18; Hoozee 1979, No.529.

As explained in the entry on No.29, Constable produced two main types of ‘Branch Hill Pond’ composition. No.30 is an example of what was there described as type B. The view is to the west and south-west, with Harrow in the distance at the extreme right and the house called The Salt Box (seen from a different angle in No.19 above) in the middle distance to the left of it. Two finished versions of No.30 exist, one in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia (Fig. 1, TG 1976 No.239, H.441)1 and the other in the Oskar Reinhart Collection at Winterthur (Fig.2, H.439).2 The former was exhibited at the R.A. in 1825(115) as ‘Landscape’. In a letter of 1 August that year to Francis Darby, who soon afterwards bought the picture, Constable described the subject as follows: ‘No.115. a Scene on Hampstead Heath with broken foreground. and sand carts - Windsor Castle in the extreme distance on the right of the Shower. the fresh greens in the distance (which You are pleased to admire) are the feilds about Harrow and ye villages of Hendon - Kilburn, &c.’ (JCC IV, p.97). Darby also bought a companion picture of the view from Child's Hill, Hampstead (present whereabouts unknown). The other finished version of No.30, now at Winterthur, was one of three paintings ordered by the Paris dealer Claude Schroth on 22 May 1824 (JCC II, p.314) and probably delivered at the end of that year or the start of the next (JCC VI, p.187). The picture appears to have returned to England after Schroth's bankruptcy in 1839–40 and to have been the original of Lucas' mezzotint of the subject (Shirley 1930, No.51), published by Bohn in 1855 when the painting was said to belong to Mrs Gibbons. Like Darby, Schroth also had a version of the companion work.

Constable's remark to Purton, recounted by Field on the back of No.30, suggests that the Tate picture is not a preparatory sketch for the other two versions but, rather, a painting deliberately left unfinished. An amateur artist, William Purton was one of Constable's circle of friends at Hampstead during the last years of his life. The earliest indication of their friendship is a letter from Purton to Constable probably written in 1833 (JCC V, pp.40–1), concerning the wording of a new introduction to English Landscape, on which Purton was advising Constable. However, even assuming that the two first met in the 1830s, the anecdote recorded on the back of No.30 is not much of a guide to the date of the picture, since we do not know whether Constable was talking to Purton about a recently executed work or whether he had brought out an earlier canvas to show him.

The author of the inscription on the back of the picture was the law reformer and amateur artist Edwin Wilkins Field (1804–71). His reference to having been a neighbour and friend of Constable at Hampstead appears to be the only record of their friendship. The picture in ‘the Kensington Gallery’, i.e. the V.&A., mentioned in Field's inscription is presumably ‘Hampstead Heath: Branch Hill Pond’ (R.301, H.481), presented by Sheepshanks in 1857. This, however, is an example of Constable's other kind of Branch Hill Pond composition, described as type A in the entry on No.29 above.

1. Oil on canvas, 24 1/2×30 3/8 (62.2×78.1).

2. Oil on canvas, 23 5/8×30 5/16 (60×77); Rudolf Koella, Collection Oskar Reinhart, Paris 1975, No.44, repr. in colour.

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

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