John Constable

Dedham from Langham


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John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 137 × 190 mm
frame: 253 × 305 × 65 mm
Bequeathed by George Salting 1910

Display caption

Constable included a version of this view in his series of prints known as English Landscape, published in the 1830s.

In a draft for the text to accompany the print, he described the subject as follows: ‘This view of the beautiful valley of the Stour … is taken from Langham an elevated spot to the NW of Dedham, where the elegance of the tower of Dedham church is seem to much advantage, being opposed to a branch of the sea at Harwich where this meandering river loses itself. This tower from all points forms a characteristic feature of the Vale.’

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

N02654 Dedham from Langham ? 1813

Oil on-canvas, formerly laid on card but transferred to synthetic panel 1969, 5 3/8×7 1/2 (13.7×19). Inscribed by the artist ‘24. Au[g]’ bottom left, the remainder of the date missing.

Prov: ...; George Salting, probably by 1883,1 and bequeathed by him to the National Gallery 1910; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1951. Accession N02654.
Exh: Agnew's 1910(67); Tate Gallery 1976(113).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.243, 1910, p.85; Shirley 1937, p.78; Davies 1946, p.36; Chamot 1956, p.260; Kitson 1957, pp.341, 347; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Essex(16) No.41; Hoozee 1979, No.162.

As explained under No.8 above, Constable produced several versions of two distinct compositions showing views eastward down the Stour valley from the hills near Langham. No.12 is an example of what was described in the earlier entry as type B, in which the viewpoint is near Langham church and a gully separates a foreground meadow from a group of trees and a building in the right-hand middle-distance. This type of the composition appears to have occupied Constable especially in the years 1812–13. An oil sketch of it in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford is dated 13 July 1812 (Fig.1, tg 1976 No.112, h.155), 2 while the 1813 sketchbook contains three studies of the view (V.&A., r.121, pp.39, 51, 52: see Fig.2 for p.39).3 A large drawing in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Copenhagen seems also to belong to this period (tg 1976 No.114),4 as does an oil study in the V.&A. (Fig.3, r.332, h.86).5 The latter was the basis of Lucas' mezzotint ‘Summer Morning’, published in English Landscape in 1831 (Shirley 1930, No.26). Although there can be little doubt that No.12 is more or less contemporary with the dated versions mentioned above, it cannot have been painted in 1812 since Constable was in London on 24 August that year. 6 The year 1814 can probably be ruled out for a similar reason.7 The cow in No.12 is depicted from a rather unusual angle for Constable but is similar to one drawn by him in his sketchbook on 22 August 1813 (Fig.4, V.&A., r.121, p.56).8 It is worth asking whether he painted No.12 on 24 August 1813, adding the cow from this two day old drawing or from memory of the motif: he is unlikely to have encountered the animal itself in such a finely calculated position when he arrived at Langham on the 24th.

The three oil studies, No.12 and those in the V.&A. and Ashmolean Museum, are alike in design but differ in colour and handling, as well as in the animals and human figures depicted in the foreground. No.12 has a single cow, the V.&A. work a different cow with a boy or man standing nearby, and the Oxford study a figure leading away two horses. Lucas' plate of the subject originally included a figure and single cow, as in the V.&A. study, but was later altered to show a milkmaid standing beside two cows (later still, a third was added). A plough was also introduced in the immediate foreground and the detail of the figure leading away horses was added from the study now at Oxford.

Ian Fleming-Williams (1976, p.44) has suggested that Constable may have contemplated painting a large ‘Dedham from Langham’ comparable to the ‘Dedham Vale: Morning’ which he exhibited in 1811 (Private Collection, tg 1976 No.100, h.122). The latter is a panoramic view of the valley from the other side and looking in the opposite direction to No.12. The Copenhagen drawing mentioned above presents the ‘Dedham from Langham’ subject in just such a panoramic way. Although no large painting is known to have materialised, the subject is clearly one that fascinated Constable at this time, and it remained a favourite with him, being chosen, as already stated, for inclusion in English Landscape. In a draft for the text with which he intended to accompany Lucas' mezzotint, Constable wrote: ‘Nature is never seen, in this climate at least, to greater perfection than at about 9 O'clock in the mornings of July and August when the sun has gained sufficient strength to give splendour to the Landscape “still gemmed with the morning dew”, without <the> its oppressive heat, <The Morning> And it is still more delightful if vegetation has been refreshed with a shower during the night-’. He went on to distinguish between ‘morning and evening effects’, writing of ‘the greater depth and coolness <of> in the shadows of the Morning’ and of the lights being ‘more silvery and sparkling’ at that time. In the same draft, an account of Dedham church is prefaced by the following description of the subject of the print: ‘This view of the beautiful Valley of the Stour - the river that divides the counties of Suffolk and Essex- is taken from Langham an elevated spot to the NW of Dedham, where the elegance of the tower of Dedham church is seen to much advantage, being opposed to a branch of the sea at Harwich where this meandering river loses itself. This tower from all points forms a characteristic feature of the Vale’ (Coll. Mrs E.Constable; Shirley 1930, p.261).9

1. In the smaller of his two notebooks (National Gallery Library) Salting listed under the year 1883 ‘Dedham vale’, adding in pencil ‘small study’. The work referred to is probably identical with the ‘Vale of Dedham (small study) cow lying down in foreground’ recorded in his large notebook (a list of his collection begun in 1900) and the latter is certainly No.12. It is just possible, however, that the 1883 reference is to No.44 below, the only other Salting picture which could be described as ‘Dedham vale’.

2. Oil on canvas, 7 1/2×12 4/8 (19×32).

3. Pencil, 3 1/2×4 1/4 (8.9×12.1); inscribed ‘Dedham from Langham’.

4. Fleming-Williams 1976, pl.14. Among other drawings of the view may be mentioned one mounted on folio 33 of the Exeter album (for which, see note 2 to No.9 above). This is a small sketch made at right angles to a larger one of a fallen tree.

5. Oil on canvas, 8 1/2×12 (21.6×30.5). Reynolds dated this study c. 1830, believing it to have been made specifically for Lucas to work from for his ‘Summer Morning’ mezzotint, which was published in 1831. To the objections to this view given in note 5 to No.11 above may be added the observation that since Constable already had the two sketches of the subject which are now in the Ashmolean Museum and Tate Gallery, he would not have needed to make a fresh one for Lucas. The pale tonality and restrained handling of the V.&A. study cannot be matched in anything dating from so late in Constable's career.

6. See JCC I, pp.82–3, II, pp.82–3.

7. Constable wrote to Maria Bicknell on 28 August 1814 after returning from Tattingstone, where he had spent ‘several days’ working on his portrait of Admiral Western (JCC II, p.130). A drawing of Tattingstone church in the 1814 sketchbook (V.&A., r.132, p.33) is dated 23 August and it seems likely that Constable was still at Tattingstone on the following day.

8. See note 3 above for size.

9. An upright oil sketch (h.82) of part of the ‘Dedham from Langham’ view was sold at Christie's on 18 March 1977 (65, repr.). This has affinities with p.36 and possibly the top sketch on p.51 of the 1813 sketchbook (V.&A., r.121).

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

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