John Constable

The Glebe Farm


Not on display

John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 648 × 956 mm
frame: 940 × 1245 × 110 mm
Bequeathed by Miss Isabel Constable as the gift of Maria Louisa, Isabel and Lionel Bicknell Constable 1888

Display caption

The cottage nestling in woodland is a common theme in nineteenth-century art. Painting this popular scene may suggest Constable was hoping to guarantee this work would sell.
This painting also has an additional, personal significance. The image is based on an oil sketch of the home of Constable’s old friend and supporter Dr Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury. Fisher’s death in 1825 prompted Constable to return to the sketch and produce multiple oil paintings of the scene.

Gallery label, February 2019

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Catalogue entry

N01274 The Glebe Farm Circa 1830, exhibited 1835

Oil on canvas, 25 1/2×37 1/4 (64.8×95.6).
Prov: Executors of John Constable, sold Foster and Sons 16 May 1838 (70, ‘The Glebe Farm Exhibited 1835’), bt. in by C. R. Leslie at £74. 115. for John Charles Constable;1 bequeathed by Isabel Constable to the National Gallery 1888; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919. Accession N01274.
Exh: Worcester Institution 1835 (171, ‘The Glebe Farm’); International Exhibition, 1862(307); R.A. Old Masters 1871(119); Leeds 1913(75); Tate Gallery 1971(105); Tate Gallery 1976(321).
Engr: 1. by David Lucas in mezzotint as ‘The Glebe Farm’, published by Constable in English Landscape 1832 (Shirley 1930, No.29);2 2. an etching by David Law was published by Dowdeswell in 1889.
Lit: Leslie 1843, pp.58, 108, 126, 1951, pp.158–9, 257, 286; Holmes 1902, p.248; Shirley 1937, pp.lxxi–lxxii, lxxxiii, 215–6, 224, 279, 323, 331, 345, 372; Chamot 1956, p.260; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Essex (20–21) No.46; Hoozee 1979, No.536.

Langham church figures on the distant skyline of many of Constable's Stour valley paintings but only in ‘The Glebe Farm’ composition are the church and neighbouring Church Farm (the ‘Glebe Farm’3) seen from close to. An oil sketch of the farmhouse made about 1810 or so (Fig. 1, V.&A., r.111, h.141)4 appears to have been the origin of the composition, which Constable was probably inspired to develop following the death in 1825 of his old friend and patron, Dr Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury. Fisher had been titular Rector of Langham and it was on one of his visits to the area, apparently in 1798, that his curate at Langham, the Revd Brooke Hurlock, introduced Constable to him. The artist described this meeting in the letterpress to English Landscape as one of the events that ‘entirely influenced his future life’: it led not only to the Bishop's patronage but also to Constable's great friendship with Archdeacon John Fisher, the Bishop's nephew.

The first mention of the composition is in a letter to the Archdeacon dated 9 September 1826. ‘My last landscape [is] a cottage scene -’, wrote Constable, ‘with the Church of Langham - the poor bishops first living - & which he held while at Exeter in commendamus [Fisher was Bishop of Exeter from 1803 until 1807]. It is one of my best - very rich in color - & fresh and bright - and I have “pacified it” - so that it gains much by that in tone & solemnity’ (JCC VI, pp.223–4). This picture, the first ‘Glebe Farm’, was exhibited at the British Institution in January 1827 (314, size of frame 31×37 inches), when it was bought by George Morant, a fellow Director with Constable of the Artists' General Benevolent Institution.5 It was sold from the Wynn Ellis collection in 1876,6 the size being given as 18×23 1/4 inches, and was last heard of in the Armstrong Heirlooms sale in 1910.7 As well as being smaller and squarer than No.37, Morant's picture apparently differed from it in various details, though it is difficult to believe that the composition was in reverse to No.37, as the 1910 catalogue suggests: ‘The farmhouse and the church stand on high ground to the left; a woody glade on the right with two donkeys and a peasant woman, who is wearing a red cloak; a dog by a pool in the foreground’. All other known versions, from the early oil sketch up to Lucas' mezzotint, show the farmhouse on the right and the glade on the left: either the 1910 cataloguer made a rather peculiar mistake or, very untypically, Constable tried out an altogether different design before reverting to the one seen in embryo in the V.&A. oil sketch. If the farmhouse in Morant's picture was in fact on the right, a version of the composition now in the Detroit Institute of Arts (Fig.2, h.478)8 needs to be seriously considered. Its measurements nearly match those recorded for the Morant picture and it includes the donkeys, dog and woman mentioned by Christie's cataloguer in 1910. If the Detroit painting (known to the compiler only from photographs) is not Constable's 1827 exhibit, it would seem to be the best record of its appearance.

As the 1838 sale catalogue indicates, No.37 was exhibited at Worcester in 1835, but this version was certainly in existence by 1831, if not several years earlier - Lucas' mezzotint of it was made either in December 1831 or January 1832.9 Leslie was given another, unfinished, version around 1830 (No.38 below), while Constable, apparently, sold another ‘Glebe Farm’ to his namesake George Constable in 1834: ‘My Glebe farm is going away’, he told Lucas on 16 December, ‘- sold to Mr Constable of <Edin> Arundel - the picture is a favourite but it chose its possessor’ (JCC IV, p.416). The whereabouts of this version is unknown, though it is conceivable that the deal with George Constable fell through and that the picture is the one which remained with the artist, i.e. No.37. The way Constable writes about it to Lucas may support this idea; he makes no distinction between the version destined for Arundel and the one Lucas had engraved. On 8 December 1836 Constable told Leslie that ‘Sheepshanks means to have my Glebe farm - or Green Lane of which you have a sketch [No.38] this is one of the pictures on which I rest my little pretensions to futurity - is it - worth-or can I ask - in any reason 150 - for it - (between ourselves) -’ (JCC III, p.144). No ‘Glebe Farm’ was included in John Sheepshanks' gift to the nation and it seems unlikely that anything came of the matter. In both the Sheepshanks and George Constable affairs, Constable referred to ‘my Glebe Farm’, not ‘a Glebe Farm’, and he expressed great attachment to the picture. Could it be that only one work was in question, the one which stayed with him until his death, No.37?

As well as No.37, two other ‘Glebe Farm’ paintings were in the 1838 Constable sale: lot 10, ‘Three - The Glebe Farm; Salisbury, and one other’, bt. Williams £3. 15s.; lot 13, ‘Two - Salisbury Cathedral and the Glebe Farm’, bt. Carpenter £24. 3s. Probably both were studies for one or other of the finished paintings. Carpenter's was certainly described as such when it reappeared in his own sale in 1867.10 Neither work has yet been traced. According to Shirley (1937, p.216), a study used for the girl in No.37 belonged to Sir Michael Sadler, but this has also to be rediscovered. A pencil drawing of the farmhouse, seen from a different angle, is in the collection of Mrs E. Constable. The First Loan Exhibition at the Minories, Colchester in 1958 included an oil study belonging to a Mrs Parsons (No.34) which was described in the catalogue as being ‘not unlike’ the V.&A. sketch which served as the basis of the ‘Glebe Farm’ composition: again, this has still to be rediscovered.

The only material used by Constable in the preparation of No.37 and which is still available today (leaving aside the uncertain Detroit painting) is therefore the V.&A. oil sketch mentioned earlier (Fig. 1). While this shows the farmhouse and principal trees disposed much as they are in No.37, it omits the church and presents the subject from a closer and higher viewpoint. The church does not appear because, even from this higher viewpoint, it is hidden by the brow of the hill upon which the farmhouse stands. In No.37 and No.38 Constable deliberately brought the church into view11 and made much more of the glade below the farmhouse. Visiting Langham in 1840, Leslie and another of Constable's friends, William Purton, found ‘all is so much changed excepting the Church, that we could scarcely recognize it as the scene of “The Glebe Farm”’ (Leslie 1843, p.126, 1951, p.286). Leslie comments elsewhere in his biography on Constable's manipulation of the subject: ‘The rising ground and trees on the right hand are imaginary, as the ground, in reality, descends rather steeply on that side of the Church’ (1843, p.58, 1951, p.159).

‘The Glebe Farm’ was frequently copied by others, usually from Lucas’ mezzotint. At least one copy, a picture formerly in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, derives, however, from No.38 below, while two others (Louvre, rf 40, and Castle Museum, Norwich, 216.948) seem closer to the early states of Lucas' first attempt at the ‘Glebe Farm’ plate (Shirley 1930, No.22), which was eventually altered to ‘Castle Acre Priory’.

1. The copy of the catalogue in the V.&A. Library is marked thus, and the entry in J.C. Constable's diary for 16 May 1838 (Coll. Mrs E. Constable) confirms his purchase: ‘Went to the sale ... I bought 3 pictures Hampstead Heath. Glebe Farm & Arundel Mill’.

2. As well as following No.37 very closely, Lucas' print was described in Bohn's edition of English Landscape (1855) as taken ‘From a Picture in the possession of Constable's family’. No.37 is the only ‘Glebe Farm’ picture known to have been with the family at this time.

3. In 1810, at least, Church Farm was not, despite its name and the name by which Constable knew it, actually on glebe land: see ‘A Plan of the Glebe Lands belonging to The Rectory of Langham ... 1810’, Essex Record Office D/P 154/3/2.

4. Oil on canvas, 7 1/8×11 (19.7×28).

5. The Courier, 3 February 1827, reported that Morant had purchased a Constable at the exhibition. This must have been ‘The Glebe Farm’ because, of Constable's other two exhibits, one was already sold (‘A Mill at Gillingham, Dorset’, painted for Mrs Hand in 1826) and the other, ‘Landscape; Noon’ (‘The Cornfield’, now in the National Gallery) remained with Constable until his death. Morant's ‘Glebe Farm’ was presumably lot 44 in his sale at Phillips, 21 May 1832: ‘View at Dedham, Essex’.

6. Christie's 6 May 1876(36), bt. Agnew; the catalogue states that the picture came from Morant's collection.

7. Christie's 24 June 1910(47), bt. Tooth; said to be from the Morant and Wynn Ellis collections.

8. No.64.117. Oil on canvas, 18 3/4×23 3/4 (46.4×59.7). Prov: bt. from Henry Reinhardt, Chicago, by Mrs Joseph B. Schlotman, 8 November 1913, and given by her to the Detroit Institute of Arts 1964.

9. After Lucas' first plate of the subject (not based on No.37) had been ruined, Constable told the engraver on 4 December 1831 to ‘lose no time in grounding another, for I will not lose so interesting a subject’ (JCC IV, p.361). In January 1832 he was already asking Lucas for proofs from the new plate (ibid., p.364).

10. William Carpenter sale, Christie's 16 February 1867 (79, ‘Study for the picture of the “Glebe Farm”’), bt. Hogarth £91.

11. Constable presumably already had a study of the church which he turned to at this stage. Leggatt's Constable exhibition of 1899 included both a drawing (No.168) and an oil sketch (No.50) of Langham church. Neither has so far been rediscovered. The drawing may be the same one which Mrs K. Newton sold at Sotheby's on 24 May 1950(87), 6 1/4×4 9/16 inches, bought by Leggatt's and sold by them to C. Russell (presumably Charles Russell but not in his sale, Sotheby's 30 November 1960).

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

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