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Constable painting bought by council

PUBLISHED: 05:17 20 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:18 24 February 2010

A PAINTING by the famous East Anglian artist John Constable has been bought by Ipswich Borough Council, making its collection of his artworks the largest held in a UK public collection outside London.

A PAINTING by the famous East Anglian artist John Constable has been bought by Ipswich Borough Council, making its collection of his artworks the largest held in a UK public collection outside London.

The oil painting, entitled Ladies From the Family of Mr William Mason of Colchester, cost £170,000 and was acquired with the help of a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and donations from the Friends of Ipswich Museums and Professor Hugh Brogan from Essex University.

After being outbid at auction in London last summer, the council's registration and collections manager, Sally Dummer, approached the purchaser, a London gallery owner, who agreed to sell it to the authority, which then reapplied for the Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The picture is a rare early conversation piece by Constable. From the outset, the artist was interested in landscape painting, but at this time professional artists made a living from painting portraits.

Finding only occasional buyers for his landscapes, Constable was forced to undertake portrait commissions, often of friends of the Constable family who lived locally.

Painted in about 1802-6, and still in its original frame, the painting depicts four ladies of the family of William Mason with their dog and, through a window, a view of Stratford St Mary church. William Mason (1768-1840) was a prominent solicitor in Colchester and the Constable family's lawyer.

He married Constable's cousin Anne Parmenter in 1792 and they lived at St Mary's in Church Street, Colchester. The two families knew each other well, as indicated in correspondence of the date.

The acquisition of this work has strengthened the Constable collection held at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, already acknowledged as a local and national centre for the study of Constable's early work.

John Mowles, the council's leisure and arts spokesman, said: "This is the ninth Constable oil painting we have, along with a greater number of drawings and mezzotints, and it shows our commitment to fine art in Ipswich.

"However, we could not have done anything without the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends and Prof Brogan. We are very grateful to them and hope many, many residents and visitors will come along to view this fine work of art."

Adrian Parry, chairman of the Friends of Ipswich Museums, added: "The acquisition of this rare conversation piece is an important addition to this significant collection of Constable paintings held at Christchurch Mansion.

"Constable portraits in public collections are rare and this work will augment and develop the collection, which is already acknowledged as a local and national centre for the study of Constable's early work."

The picture will be unveiled on February 25 by Ipswich mayor Richard Risebrow at a ceremony attended by representatives of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Ipswich Borough Council, the Friends of Ipswich Museums and Prof Brogan.


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