John Constable

Study for ‘Flatford Mill’


Not on display

John Constable 1776–1837
Graphite on paper
Support: 255 × 312 mm
Purchased 1988


This is a preparatory study for Flatford Mill ('Scene on a Navigable River') (1816-17, Tate Gallery N01273), which was largely painted outdoors in the artist's native Suffolk. The drawing is a pencil tracing of an image made with a brush on a sheet of glass held on an easel in front of the subject itself. The tracing was made by placing a piece of paper over the image on the glass. Because it was still wet, it produced an accidental offprint on the back of the paper. It was squared for transfer to the canvas. The drawing includes the two barges seen in the finished painting, but none of the figures. Arthur Parsey describes Constable using such a method in his book The Science of Vision; or, Natural Perspective (1840). A number of such tracings are known, and Constable made this one to establish the perspective in his large canvas.

Further reading:
Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, Constable, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991, pp.179-180, reproduced fig.60

Terry Riggs
March 1998

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Technique and condition

A graphite pencil drawing on hand made, white laid paper. The verso bears the feint traces of a transferred image in oil paint. The paper has a watermark of an unidentified coat of arms in the upper middle area of the support.

The artist began the study by placing a sheet of glass on an easel through which the subject was viewed. An outline of the landscape was then painted onto the glass with a fine brush and oil paint. While the paint was still wet, a sheet of paper was pressed onto the glass and the image transferred to the paper. As the transferred image was a mirror image of the scene viewed, the oil paint drawing was traced in pencil on the verso of the paper to correct it. This drawing was then squared for transfer to the canvas.

On acquisition the drawing had many creases with a prominant vertical crease down the centre. Damages and brown stains are evident on the surface. The drawing was washed, inlaid and mounted.

Jo Crook

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