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Salisbury  Cathedral

A view of Salisbury Cathedral and Harnham Bridge

This photograph is used with the permission of Andrew Currie from Bonhams. Thank you Andrew Currie and Bonhams.

Lot 61 

John Constable R.A. (British, 1776-1837)

A view of Salisbury Cathedral and Harnham Bridge (recto); A letter (verso)

11.5 x 19 cm. (4 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)


Sold for £65,725 inc. premium

9 November  2004


John Constable R.A. (British, 1776-1837)

A view of Salisbury Cathedral and Harnham Bridge (recto); A letter (verso) 
pencil and wash heightened with white, on cream wove paper made by William Turner at Chafford Mill, Kent with embossed crown- Bath stationers stamp
11.5 x 19 cm. (4 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)




  • Nr 2. Lower Terrace Hampstead
    Augt 11. 1821

    My dear Sir,
    Agreeable to your request I have mentioned to my medical friend the difficulty attending this settling MF's bill - I find that the usual charge is a guinea for being called from their bed or sitting up...

    John Constable was at No. 2, Lower Terrace, Hampstead from 17th June 1821 until early November 1821. He then went to Salisbury, where he stayed with Archdeacon John Fisher from about 8th November until after 19th November. It is reasonable to associate the present drawing with that visit.

    The medical friend (MF) mentioned in the letter is presumably Dr. Robert Gooch, who was attending Constable's children around this period.

    We are grateful for Graham Reynolds for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

The above lot was sold by Bonhams on my behalf.  Here is its story.

       It was bought by me, in a job lot of prints from an East Anglian auction room, earlier in the year for about £40. I paid for the lot, took it home and sorted the lot into three piles.  Pile one for the bin.  Pile two too be thought about.  Pile three the prints I definitely wanted.  The main prints I wanted were two signed etchings by Frank Paton, and in particular was the signed etching of "Golfing at St Andrews."

      In the pile too be thought about was the above lot.  It had a dusty blue mount surrounding it and it was stuck to a piece of thick card.  As I looked at it I thought this looks like Constable.  But I did not recognize where.  I knew it wasn't the church at Denham near where Constable lived because I frequently passed it.  I had spent a little time examining David Lucas's mezzotints after Constable  and I think it was because of this that I recognized the possibility of this drawing with watercolour wash as possibly being by Constable.

      The first thing I did was too find a book about Constable and identify if possible exactly where the church was.  At the end of the book was a picture of Constable's masterpiece Salisbury Cathedral.  That's it I thought to myself.  Next I studied the drawings of Constable.  There were a lot of Salisbury Cathedral but none exactly like mine. 

      I pondered the picture and as I pondered I could see writing was on the other side.  It was essential to discover what that writing said and to do that would mean soaking the picture in water  to remove the card.  The mount came away fairly quickly but the card was a problem.  In the end I had to slice small slivers and five hours or so later the card backing  finally came away to reveal part of a letter  with the address Nr 2 Lower Terrace Hampstead.

      Initially I had no success in connecting Constable to this address, until I looked at a book that detailed his life chronologically, whereupon  I came to the paragraph that began  "After his move to No 2 Lower Terrace Hampstead".  Eureka!!!  What an interesting sensation a Eureka moment is.


I compared the handwriting on the letter with known examples of Constable's handwriting.  I have an interest in handwriting and to me at least it was obviously the same hand.


That Saturday on a book stall I had at Framlingham Market in Suffolk I saw a lady from Bonhams that I knew slightly and showed the drawing to her.  To say the least she was not entirely certain that it could possibly be by Constable until I asked her if she knew where he lived in August 1821. "Not offhand" she replied. "No 2 Lower Terrace Hampstead "  I replied and then showed her the letter on the verso.   


She looked carefully at the letter again and then at the picture and said it that it  quite looked quite promising.  She handed it back to me at which point a gust of wind took it out of my hand and sent it flying 50 yards away.    No damage done though.  


It stayed with her at Bonhams for research and a few months later she confirmed that it was by Constable and would be entering the sale in November 2004 where it duly sold for the above figure including premium. 


Bonhams subsequently listed it on their website as one of their highlights of the year.


What did I do with the money? That's another story.  


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