doubtfully attributed to John Constable

‘Summer, Afternoon - After a Shower’

Not on display

Doubtfully attributed to John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 346 × 435 mm
frame: 528 × 652 × 87 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900

Display caption

This painting resembles one of the mezzotints produced by David Lucas for his series of engravings English Landscape (1830–2) which was based on a wide range of oil sketches and finished paintings made by Constable at various periods of his life. The authenticity of this work has been questioned owing to the description of the cows which are little more than amorphous red objects topped with white. In addition, the strangely shaped clouds at the left, and the blue streaks running across the clouds in the centre of the sky, seem unlikely to be by Constable’s hand.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Catalogue entry

N01815 ‘Summer, Afternoon - After a Shower’

Oil on canvas, 13 9/16×17 1/8 (34.5×43.5).

Prov: ...; bequeathed by Henry Vaughan to the National Gallery 1900; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1951. Accession N01815.
Exh: English Romantic Art, Arts Council touring exhibition (Leeds, Hull, Harrogate, Derby, Cardiff, Bristol) 1947 (29); Masters of British Painting 1800–1950, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1956, City Art Museum, St Louis and California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco 1957(24).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.248; Shirley 1937, pp.171, 247; Davies 1946, pp.30–1; Chamot 1956, pp.261–2; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Surrey (4) No.11; Hoozee 1979, No.499 (queried).

The composition which David Lucas engraved for English Landscape as ‘Summer, Afternoon - After a Shower’ (Fig.1, Shirley 1930, No.28)1 originated in the following way, according to C.R.Leslie: ‘Immediately on alighting from the coach after one of his journeys either to or from Brighton, Constable made the beautiful sketch from which the engraving called “Summer, afternoon after a shower,” was taken; it was the recollection of an effect he had noticed near Red Hill.’ (Leslie 1843, p.46, 1951, p.129). The passage occurs in Leslie's account of the year 1824, though Constable's journeys to and from Brighton continued until 1830 (see No.27 above). In his copy of Leslie's book, David Lucas noted that the painter John Jackson, who died in 1831, ‘was so delighted with this sketch he offered to paint a picture any size in return for it which Mr. C. declined.’ (JC:FDC, p.58). As well as the original sketch of the subject, Constable painted a larger version which he offered to lend Lucas while he was working on the engraving: ‘White Horse & Red Hill [i.e. Summer, Afternoon] are lovely compositions You may always have the large pictures from them’ (Constable to Lucas, 29 September 1831, JCC IV, p.355).

Today only two paintings of the subject are known which have any pretensions to be by Constable himself: No.47 and a small sketch formerly in the collection of James Bingham (Fig.2, H.498).2 The latter is reported to bear the inscription ‘Given to me by John Constable, Esq., David Lucas’.3 The present whereabouts of this work is unknown and photographs do not give a clear enough impression for one to say whether it is likely to be Constable's first sketch of the subject. It is also difficult to feel sure that No.47 is the larger version mentioned in Constable's letter to Lucas. In its favour is the absence of certain details which, the progress proofs suggest, were added only during Lucas' work on the mezzotint plate: the church spire, the cowman and two of the cows on the hillside. On the other hand, if Constable were painting a larger version of his first sketch, he might be expected to describe the cows (if this is what they are) on the hillside more completely than in No.47, where they appear as amorphous red objects topped with white. The boomerang-shaped clouds at the left and the blue streaks running across the clouds in the centre of the sky are also worrying. In addition, at least one further version of the subject is recorded which may well have been authentic and which is unlikely to have been either No.47 or the Bingham sketch. This is the ‘Redhill, Surrey’ which was No.57 in Leggatt's 1899 exhibition. Henry Vaughan, the donor of No.47, died in April 1899, several months before the exhibition opened. All works in the exhibition were said to have come direct from the Constable family, whereas the Bingham sketch apparently belonged to David Lucas.

1. Reproduced from an impression of the first published state in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (P.155–1954).

2. Oil on canvas, 9 1/4×11 1/2 (23.5×29.2).

3. According to the catalogue of the exhibition Pictures from the Collection of James H. Bingham, Esq., Brighton Art Gallery 1954, No.28.

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

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