John Constable, David Lucas

River Stour, Suffolk

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
John Constable 1776–1837
David Lucas 1802–1881
Mezzotint on paper
Image: 145 × 223 mm
Purchased 1985

Catalogue entry

This catalogue entry discusses a group of works; details of the individual work are given at the end of the introductory text.

John Constable 1776-1837 and David Lucas 1802-1881

T03983 - T04063 'Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery' ('English Landscape') first published 1830-2

Eighty-one mezzotints with additional work in drypoint, some touched with black wash, comprising various states of all twenty-two subjects; various papers and sizes; each stamped 'O.H.B' (collector's mark of Osbert H. Barnard) on back
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Prov: ...; Osbert H. Barnard, sold Sotheby's 7 March 1985 (237, together with T04064-04103 below) £5017 bt Christopher Mendez for Tate Gallery (see individual entries for earlier provenance where known)
Exh: The 'English Landscape' Prints of John Constable & David Lucas, Tate Gallery, April-June 1986 (thirty-one of the prints shown: see individual entries, where this exhibition is abbreviated as 'Tate Gallery 1986')
Lit: Andrew Shirley, The Published Mezzotints of David Lucas after John Constable, R.A., Oxford 1930; R.B. Beckett (ed.), John Constable's Correspondence, IV, Ipswich 1966, pp.314-463; Osbert H. Barnard, 'Lucas-Constable: English Landscape, Revised List of States', Print Quarterly, vol.1, June 1984, pp.120-3; Graham Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London 1984; David Hill, Constable's English Landscape Scenery, 1985; Leslie Parris, The 'English Landscape' Prints of John Constable & David Lucas, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1986

From 1829 until his death Constable devoted considerable time, energy and money to the business of printmaking and publishing, activities that had concerned him hardly at all in earlier years. The principal outcome was a series of twenty-two mezzotints engraved under his close supervision by the young David Lucas and entitled Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery, from Pictures Painted by John Constable, R.A., generally known today simply as English Landscape. Based on a wide range of oil sketches and finished paintings (perhaps also one or two watercolours or drawings) which Constable had made at various periods of his life, the series was first issued in parts at irregular intervals between June 1830 and July 1832. A supplementary series was begun but not published in Constable's lifetime. Lucas also engraved several larger plates on his own initiative and, after Constable's death, some further small plates intended to supplement English Landscape.

In the English Landscape prints and the texts he wrote to accompany them Constable offered the public (which in the event took little notice) an epitome and justification of his life's work. There were two kinds of artist, he wrote: the imitator or eclectic who gains ready acceptance by retailing the familiar, and the innovator who adds to art 'qualities of Nature unknown to it before'. Because 'so few appreciate any deviation from a beaten track', the rise of an original artist 'must almost certainly be delayed', as, with good reason, Constable felt his own had been. But while justifying the stand he had taken in the past, Constable was moving off again in a new direction. If it was conceived as a retrospect, English Landscape rapidly became the vehicle for his latest thoughts and particularly for his notion that chiaroscuro was a vital principle of both nature and art, 'the medium by which the grand and varied aspects of Landscape are displayed, both in the fields and on canvass'. Working in the most chiaroscuratic of all print techniques, Constable could explore the interaction of black and white, and the relations of tones in between, to a degree that had not been possible in his painting. The works chosen for inclusion in the series were not so much reproduced as translated into a new language, a language which revealed aspects that had only been latent before. In David Lucas Constable was fortunate to find an engraver who could respond to his ideas and experiment with the medium to create both the dramatic contrasts and the unprecedented subtleties of tonal variation he demanded.

It is not possible to discuss the history and function of the prints here in any detail (some aspects not mentioned here are touched on in the catalogue of the 1986 Tate Gallery exhibition). A full study is still needed, not least of the surviving progress proofs, which are the key to understanding the process of translation referred to above. The basic materials for such a study already exist in the Constable-Lucas correspondence (published in Beckett IV 1966), Constable's introductory texts and the commentaries he wrote for some of the individual prints (reprinted in Shirley 1930) and the prints themselves, especially the progress proofs, many of them touched or inscribed, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the British Museum and other collections (though not yet the Tate Gallery). What follows here, as a brief introduction to the collection of prints (all but one of which are published states) acquired by the Gallery in 1985, is a summary of the publishing history of English Landscape and its sequels and a few notes on technique and other matters.

The original twenty-two subjects were first published in five parts between June 1830 and July 1832, with four prints to a part except the last, which contained six :

Part One, June 1830: 'Spring' (T03986), 'A Dell, Helmingham Park, Suffolk' (T04008), 'A Mill' (T04043), 'Weymouth Bay, Dorsetshire' (T04048)
Part Two, Jan. 1831: 'Noon' (T03993), 'A Seabeach' (T04021), 'Old Sarum' (first plate, T04033), 'Stoke by Neyland, Suffolk' (T04040); this part is sometimes said to have been issued in December 1830 because C.R. Leslie received a copy then but it was not generally available until the following month
Part Three, Sept. 1831: 'Summer Morning' (T04001), 'Summer Evening' (T04005), 'A Heath' (T04013), 'Mill Stream' (T04025)
Part Four, Nov. 1831: 'River Stour, Suffolk' (T03996), 'A Lock on the Stour, Suffolk' (T04029), 'A Summerland' (T04037), 'Summer, Afternoon - After a Shower' (T04052)
Part Five, July 1832: 'Frontispiece: East Bergholt, Suffolk' (T03983), 'Autumnal Sun Set' (T03990), 'Yarmouth, Norfolk' (T04018), 'The Glebe Farm' (T04055), 'Hadleigh Castle near the Nore' (T04058), 'Vignette: Hampstead Heath, Middlesex' (T04062)

In May 1833 Constable re-advertised the whole series, listing the prints in a different order. For convenience the sets issued at this time are usually referred to as the second edition. By now a new plate of 'Old Sarum' (T04035) had been substituted for the first and other plates had been reworked (see, for example, T04047).

By October 1832 Constable was planning an 'Appendix' of subjects which, for various reasons, had been excluded from the original series. Lucas continued work on these but the following year the two fell out over the division of the remaining stock of the original series and the question of payment for fresh work; further disagreements followed. When friendly relations were restored at the end of 1834, their collaboration centred on the large print of 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows' (Shirley 1930, no.39). Constable continued to entertain hopes for the 'Appendix' but died before more could be done.

The copyright, steel plates and huge stock (over seven thousand impressions) of English Landscape were offered for sale at Foster's on 12 May 1838 but were bought in, as were six unpublished plates 'intended to form a supplementary number, with a set of proofs shewing the state of the plates'. The latter were presumably the six plates lettered soon afterwards as having been published in 1838 by F.G. Moon 'for the Proprietors', i.e. Constable's children: 'A Mill near Brighton' (T04074), 'View on the River Stour' (T04075), 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows' (T04078), 'Opening of Waterloo Bridge' (T04080), 'View on the Orwell near Ipswich' (T04091) and 'Castle Acre Priory' (T04094). These subjects are represented in the Tate's collection only in later states, as published in 1855. No prospectus for, or press notice of, Moon's edition has been found and Lucas himself referred to three of the plates in 1846 as being 'exceeding rare' (Beckett IV 1966, pp.440-I). It seems likely that a project to publish the six was quickly got up after the May sale and fell through after the lettering of the plates but before many impressions had been taken. No doubt the curious mis-engraving of Constable's name as 'Dunstable' on the 'Opening of Waterloo Bridge' would have been corrected had the prints been fully editioned.

The original twenty-two prints made their next appearance as illustrations to Leslie's Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, Esq. RA., published by James Carpenter in 1843, Leslie having obtained 186 sets of the prints from the Constable family in exchange for thirty copies of the finished book. Impressions (which are often early ones) removed from Leslie's book can usually be distinguished by their paper size, the original sheets having been trimmed down to approximately 260 x 365 mm to match the page size of the volume. Stitch holes from the 1843 binding are also sometimes visible (as on T03985 and T04010) on one or other of the long sides of the paper (as distinct from the stab marks on the left-hand sides of sheets tied with ribbon for the original part issues). Some copies of the smaller, octavo edition of Leslie's book, published by Longman in 1845, included a poor reprint of one of the original English Landscape plates, the 'Vignette' (see T04063) and all copies had a re-engraved version of 'Spring' (for further details of Leslie's book and its illustrations, see Ian Fleming-Williams and Leslie Parris, The Discovery of Constable, 1984, pp.30-1).

In 1846 Lucas himself published a further collection of his mezzotints, advertised as 'Mr David Lucas's New Series of Engravings, illustrative of English Landscape, from the Pictures of John Constable, R.A.' (see Shirley 1930, pp.228-9 for the ? prospectus or title-page). This included two of Moon's 1838 series ('View on the Orwell near Ipswich' and 'Castle Acre Priory'), two more plates which had been begun under Constable's supervision ('Willy Lott's House' and 'Jaques and the Wounded Stag', represented at the Tate in later impressions, T04069 and T04090 respectively) and ten newly engraved subjects (see T04067-8, T04072-3, T04084, T04093, T04096-7, T04100, T04102). Leslie supervised the work, touched proofs and wrote a short introduction. Twelve of the prints are lettered as having been published in 1843, 1844 or 1845 but the other two were not finished until 1846 (see T04097 and T04102), which is taken here to be the year of publication of the whole set. It was certainly available by 8 September 1846, when Lucas sent a copy to George (?) Simms (Beckett IV 1966, p.440).

All but one of the prints included in the original 1830-2 series and the 1838 and 1846 collections were republished by H.G. Bohn in 1855 in a volume entitled English Landscape Scenery (T04064-04103). As a marked catalogue in the Constable family collection records, Henry Bohn had bid £55 (against a reserve of £100) in the 1838 studio sale for the two lots comprising the steel plates and stock of the original twenty-two prints and the plates of six additional subjects. It is not known when he finally obtained these plates from the family or the later ones owned by Lucas. The subject missing from Bohn's edition is the 'Vignette' (T04061-3). Having been reprinted for the 1845 edition of Leslie's biography, the plate was presumably now too worn to bear further printing. In fact, it had probably become unusable during the 1845 printing, since impressions could only be supplied in some copies of the book and even these are very unsatisfactory. Lucas reworked some of the other 1830-2 plates for Bohn but he could do little to disguise their now pitiful condition. Apart from the wear they had suffered in the original printings, the steel plates had not been properly stored after Constable's death: 'having lain in a cellar unattended to for years' they had 'become corroded and spoiled', according to a reviewer of the first edition of Leslie's biography (Athenaeum, 3 Feb. 1844, p.101). Some of the later plates were still in reasonable shape and one, 'Hampstead Heath' (T04076), was published for the first time in Bohn's volume.

Techniques and papers
Although usually described simply as mezzotints, Lucas's prints in the original English Landscape series incorporate various amounts of work in drypoint, depending on the subject and state. Drypoint was most often used for darkening small areas which had previously been scraped light, for making minor alterations to outlines and for adding such details as birds in the sky. Etching seems to have been employed very rarely. After Constable's death Lucas began to use etching and dry-point more widely and some of his plates were begun in these techniqiues with a mezzotint ground added later. In such cases he was working from light to dark instead, as in pure mezzotint, from dark to light. The illustrations in Shirley's catalogue of the early proofs of 'Cornfields near Brighton' (T04072 [cited incorrectly as T04064]) and 'Hampstead Heath' (T04076) make this change of method very plain (Shirley 1930, pls. XLIVA, LIA). The results can seem bland beside the rich chiaroscuro of the plates engraved under Constable's direction: it is instructive to compare the 'Hampstead Heath' just mentioned with the similar subject engraved for English Landscape, 'A Heath' (T04013).

The original twenty-two mezzotints were printed, the Constable-Lucas correspondence indicates, on India, French and English paper. No attempt has been made in the catalogue entries below to distinguish French and English papers, only India, laid and wove. Although Shirley said that 'in no case has a watermark been found' (1930, p.156), the collection catalogued here includes examples of at least three different marks, one of which is certainly and another possibly identifiable. These are noted in the relevant entries.

Discrepancies in image and plate size are found between different impressions of the same subject. These can be attributed in the main to variations in the rate of contraction of the paper on drying.

States and touched impressions
With one exception (T04061), all the prints catalogued here are published impressions. Osbert Barnard's account of the published states of English Landscape, the most accurate so far available, has generally been followed, while Shirley's numbering of states has been adopted for prints not included in Barnard's list, which is limited to the original twenty-two subjects. Barnard numbered the subjects in the same order as Frederick Wedmore in his Constable: Lucas: With a Descriptive Catalogue of the Prints ... (1904), giving each a 'W.' number. In the references below to Barnard's catalogue these numbers have been read as 'Barnard' numbers.

The order adopted for the original twenty-two prints is the same as Barnard's except that 'A Heath' has been placed after 'A Dell', in accordance with Constable's own arrangement of the prints in 1832. The prints published in Bohn's volume (T04064-04103) have been catalogued in the order in which they appear in the book.

Constable made numerous changes to the lettering of the plates after their first publication and these variations account for most of the states described. A few silent amendments have been made to Barnard's descriptions of the lettering. Alterations to the images were less frequently made once the plates had been published but there are one or two more of these than previous cataloguers have noticed, including the addition of a tiny figure to the second state of 'A Lock on the Stour, Suffolk' (T04030). There is generally no record of when minor changes were made to the plates and it is therefore rarely possible to ascribe dates to individual states after the first. An analysis of the states represented in sets presented by, or purchased from, Constable at an early date would help here.

Following general usage, the terms 'open letters', 'struck letters' and 'thick and thin' letters are employed here. Open letters are 'fine' if engraved in single thin lines (fig.1 [figs 1-3, each showing the letters 'ST', are not reproduced here]) or 'doubled at right' if there are two lines instead of one at the right of each letter. Struck letters are those which have had additional thin lines engraved within their bodies (fig.2). Thick and thin letters have some lines, generally on the right, thicker than others (fig.3). Other types of lettering are found on the 'Frontispiece' and 'Vignette'.

Touched impressions of the published states of prints engraved during Constable's lifetime are not uncommon and a number with touchings in black wash are included in this collection. Constable appears to have spent some time going through the stocks of English Landscape and making minor adjustments of tone or detail (adding more birds, for example) for his own benefit, long after he had marked proofs to instruct Lucas. Judging from a reference in a letter to Lucas (Beckett IV 1966, p.348), a solution of Indian ink may have been used for this purpose (white touches are also found, though not on the impressions in this collection).

The Barnard Collection
All the prints catalogued here came from the collection of Osbert Barnard, print dealer (of the firm Craddock and Barnard) and collector, who died in 1985 a few months after selling the prints at Sotheby's. The impressions of the original English Landscape subjects are those upon which he based his 'Revised List' of the states, first issued in typescript in 1970 and finally published in 1984. In an introductory note to the 1984 publication Barnard said that about 1952 he decided to begin collecting all the variant states he could find, with a view to producing a more accurate list than Shirley's, which was 'so incomplete and so full of errors as to be virtually useless'. Annotations on his mounts indicate the provenance of some impressions. Only three of the states described by Barnard were not represented in his own collection: 'River Stour, Suffolk', state II; 'Summer Morning', state IV; 'A Seabeach', state II.

T03999 River Stour, Suffolk

Mezzotint 145 x 223 (5 3/4 x 8 13/16) on laid paper 281 x 426 (11 1/16 x 6 3/4); plate-mark 179 x 252 (7 1/16 x 9 15/16); fragment of Dupuy watermark as on T03986
Engraved inscriptions as on T03997 but title now in 'struck' letters
Lit: as for T03996 but Barnard state V

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.23-6 and 32


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