John Constable

Harnham Ridge, Salisbury

1820 or 1829

Not on display

John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on paper
Support: 114 × 238 mm
frame: 240 × 350 × 35 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900

Display caption

Constable stayed at Salisbury with his great friend, Archdeacon John Fisher, on several occasions, but only in 1820 or 1829 for any length of time. This sketch could date from either visit. It is one of a number he made either from Leadenhall, Fisher’s house in the Close, or from its gardens stretching down to the river Avon. Many of them, like this one, concentrate on the sky.

In a letter to Fisher, in 1821, Constable famously described the sky as the ‘key note’ in a landscape painting, the ‘standard of Scale’, and the chief ‘Organ of sentiment’.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

N01824 Harnham Ridge, Salisbury 1820 or 1829

Oil on paper, 4 1/2×9 3/8 (11.4×23.7), laid down on another sheet which has colour trials along its edges: these appear to be a restorer's efforts rather than Constable's.
Prov: ...; bequeathed by Henry Vaughan to the National Gallery 1900; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919. Accession N01824.
Exh: Exhibition of the Works of British Artists (1750–1850), Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth 1939(2).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.246; Shirley 1937, p.181; Chamot 1956, p.263; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Wilts. (8–9) No.16; Hoozee 1979, No.511.

No.35 was called ‘Sketch of a Landscape’ until R.B. Beckett identified it, about 1956, as a view of ‘Harnham Ridge’ near Salisbury, as seen from Leydenhall, Archdeacon Fisher's house in the Close. The name ‘Harnham Ridge’ does not appear on Ordnance Survey maps, ancient or modern, but it seems appropriate for the chalk down which runs westward from Harnham Hill and Beckett's title is accordingly retained here. The hanging wood in the centre distance of No.35 appears to be Hare Warren, to the south of Wilton. It is difficult to say whether the sketch was actually made from Leydenhall or from the water-meadows to the west of the house.

No.35 is one of a group of oil studies depicting similar views. One of these is known to have been made during the Constables' long visit to the Fishers in the summer of 1820, while two others date from July 1829, when the artist paid a three week visit to Salisbury. None of the other studies is dated and it is not easy to tell on which of these two visits they were made. Constable went to Salisbury again, and for the last time, in November 1829 but, judging from the tree foliage, none of the undated studies is likely to have been made on that occasion. What follows is no more than a check-list of the Harnham studies, which have never been properly investigated.

1. (Fig.1). h.277 Estate of Roger S. Warner, Jr., Washington D.C., sold C.G. Sloan & Co. Inc., Washington, 23 September 1979 (2155), bt. Morton Morris & Company and the Brod Gallery. Oil on paper, 6 3/4×9 1/16 (17.5×23.5). Inscribed in pencil on the back of the paper: ‘Village of Harnham 2d Augt 1820- [...] looking [...]’. A later inscription reads ‘Village of Haislham. 2nd. Augst 1820. - looking West. J. Constable RA’. The work was lot 243 in the Isabel Constable sale at Christie's on 17 June 1892, when it was called ‘Village at Hailsham, 1820’. West Harnham church, with its distinctive tower, is clearly visible in the centre middle-distance. Harnham mill appears at the extreme right.

2. (Fig.2) V.&A., r.311, h.505, ‘A view at Salisbury, from the library of Archdeacon Fisher's house’. Oil on paper, 6 1/2×12 (16.2×30.5), dated 12 July 1829. Harnham Hill appears at the extreme left, the village of West Harnham in the centre middle-distance, and the lawn of Fisher's house, running down to the Avon, in the foreground.

3. V.&A., r.312, h.506, ‘The Close, Salisbury’. Oil on paper, 10 1/2×8 (26.4×20.3), dated 15 July 1829. This is a close-up of the group of trees seen at the left of item 2.

4. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, No.102, h.507, ‘Water-Meadows near Salisbury’. Oil on canvas, 12 1/4×14 1/4 (32×38), repr. Shirley 1937, pl.113. This corresponds roughly with the left half of item 2.

5. Ex. Coll. J.Johnston, sold Christie's 20 June 1975 (129, repr.), h.508. Oil on paper, 8×5 1/8 (20.3×14). This is comparable with item 4 but includes more sky and does not extend so far on the left or right.

6. (Fig.3) National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, No.376, h.509, ‘Landscape near Salisbury’. Oil on paper, 11 1/4×15 (29.2×38.1). While items 3–5 relate to the left side of item 2, this sketch overlaps (so to speak) the right side of that work and extends the view still more to the right, taking in a group of trees not seen in the other studies. West Harnham church is depicted in the middle-distance at the left and Harnham mill towards the centre. When sold from Isabel Constable's collection (Christie's 17 June 1892, lot 258), this work was called ‘Salisbury: from my bed-room’, the subtitle presumably copied from the artist's own inscription.

7. A sketch with Agnew's in 1971, entitled ‘On the Stour’. h.510. Oil on canvas, 7 1/2×11 1/4 (19×28.6). This combines elements of items 2 and 6.

8. (Fig.4) The National Trust: Bearsted Collection, Upton House, No.12, h.513, ‘A Suffolk Landscape, probably Dedham’. Oil on panel, 7 1/2×10 7/8 (19×27.6). Like item 1 and the Tate Gallery sketch, and unlike the others so far listed, this has no prominent group of trees to left or right of the foreground.

9. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, No.14, 178, h.512, ‘Cloud Study’. Oil on (?) board, 6×7 1/2 (15.2×19). Although basically a sky study, the strip of ground at the bottom appears to be Harnham Ridge.

Rather different in character are two further views from Leydenhall: ‘A view at Salisbury from Archdeacon Fisher's house’ (V.&A., r.320, h.515), which presents a view southwards, probably from the first floor of the house, and ‘Water-meadows near Salisbury’ (V.&A., r.321, h.517), which is a view from the riverside edge of the lawn, looking towards Harnham mill. The latter painting is the work which the Council of the Royal Academy rejected in mysterious circumstances in 1830 (see tg 1976 No.269).

Postscript. Another dated study of the view has come to light: Sotheby's 18 March 1981 (61, repr. in colour), oil on paper laid on board, 4 1/4×9 1/2 inches; identifiable as lot 131 in the group of works from Isabel Constable's collection sold by Edgar Colquhoun, Christie's 28 May 1891. Constable's inscription on the back of the work is copied on the stretcher: ‘End of July 1820’. Assuming the date to have been correctly transcribed, this example precedes No.1 in the above list.

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

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