Charles Robert Leslie

Lionel Constable


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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Charles Robert Leslie 1794–1859
Graphite on paper
Support: 153 × 146 mm
Purchased 1986

Catalogue entry

Charles Robert Leslie 1794-1859

T04152 Lionel Constable 1854

Pencil, approx. 153 x 146 (6 x 5 3/4) on wove paper 304 x 253 (12 x 9 15/16)
Inscribed on the back by the sitter 'Drawn by Leslie RA. May 23rd. 54'; also inscribed by another hand 'Lionel Constable. Son of John Constable RA' and in the same hand '146[?0]'
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Prov: ...; unidentified sale, John Hogbin and Son, Sandwich, c.1982-3, bt Mrs F. Poynter who died 1985; Mr F. Poynter from whom by by Tate Gallery

Lionel Bicknell Constable was the seventh and last child and fourth son of John Constable RA and his wife Maria. He was born on 2 January 1828 and so at the time this portrait was taken he was twenty-five years and four months old. Since 1847 he had studied and practised as an artist (three works by him are in the Tate Gallery: N02649, N02662, T01258). C.R. Leslie, a painter of literary and historical genre, was a close friend of Constable's - their acquaintanceship commencing about 1817 and ending only with Constable's death in 1837. Over that period the friendship deepened and, by the end, Constable had no more devoted friend - in matters artistic as well as domestic - than Leslie. Constable's death was to produce in Leslie 'the effect of a blow which stuns at first and pains afterwards' (Tom Taylor, ed., Autobiographical Recollections by the Late Charles Robert Leslie, R.A., 1860, I, p.158) and it was a loss that was to affect him for the rest of his life. Leslie played a vital role in winding up his friend's estate and otherwise ensuring that his art was kept before the public (see particularly Ian Fleming-Williams and Leslie Parris, The Discovery of Constable, 1984). The enduring monument to a relationship unique in British art is to be found in Leslie's affectionate and sensitive Memoirs of the Life of John Constable which first appeared in 1843 and in a second, enlarged edition in 1845. After Constable's death the two families (Leslie had five children and Constable had been godfather to one of them) remained in close contact - though their connection by marriage to which Constable had once, half-seriously, referred during Lionel's infancy, never occurred (John Constable to C.R. Leslie, 2 June 1831, R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence, III, Ipswich 1965, p.40). Leslie's view of his own past was coloured by a wistful melancholy. He was godfather to Lionel Constable at his baptism on 23 May 1828 (ibid., p.16) and the fact that this portrait was drawn on the anniversary of that day reflects the artist s concern to recapture some special sense of a particular moment in the past. The poignancy of the occasion in 1854 was heightened by the loss by drowning, just six months earlier, of Lionel's brother Alfred when the two of them were swimming in the Thames and the shock seems to have caused Lionel to have some kind of stroke (Fleming-Williams and Parris 1984, pp.66-7). Leslie chose to draw Lionel in profile and facing to the left. It is not too fanciful to imagine him, as he drew, seeing in Lionel's features those characteristics (notably the nose) which he shared with John Constable and which he had so carefully commemorated in a similar profile drawing from life of his dear friend some quarter of a century earlier (pencil and grey wash on blue paper, 184 x 130, 7 1/4 x 5 1/8 Christie's, 14 Nov. 1967, lot 21) and a lithograph of which formed the frontispiece to the second edition of the Memoirs.

Apart from two photographs taken in old age (Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, Lionel Constable, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1982, pp.109-10, nos.70, 71, repr.) T04152 is the only known portrait of Lionel. A drawing in black chalk of another of Constable's sons, Charles Golding Constable (1821-79), attributed to C.R. Leslie, appeared on the London art market in 1929 (Sotheby's, 1 May 1929, lot 3).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.73-4

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