'Lost' Constable drawings sell at auction
PUBLISHED: 16:07 08 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:25 08 March 2019
Two recently discovered drawings by John Constable have sold at auction in London for more than £100,000.
The pen and ink drawings were originally brought to Chiswick Auctions in a dusty box, in 1950s frames and turned out to be unpublished studies by the legendary Suffolk-born artist.
They previously belonged to the late playwright Christopher Fry, who bought them in 1951 for just £3 each - equivalent to around £90 today.
But in an auction at Chiswick Auctions Fine Art this week a bidding war saw them sell for a staggering £75,000 and £40,000 each.
They were sold by Christopher Fry’s son Tam Fry, who originally discovered the sketches when clearing out his father’s home following his death in 2005.
He said he had no idea what they were: “We thought they were beautiful, but we never realised they were Constables. To be told the provenance is unbelievable.”
Suzanne Zack, Head of British & European Art at Chiswick Auctions, said the drawings were given to ger covered in dust but on examination she decided to contact Constable expert and former Tate curator Anne Lyles.
She confirmed they were by Constable, describing them as “exciting discoveries” - both were small compositional drawings in pen, ink and wash from Constable’s late period.
The drawings of a wooded glade are believed to be early ideas for Constable’s illustration of ‘Jaques and the Wounded Stag’ from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’.
He created a range of designs as one of the artists commissioned to illustrate ‘The Seven Ages of Shakespeare’, a compilation published in 1840.
Suzanne Zack said: “What’s amazing is that in a few pen and ink marks with brown wash he creates the light and shade of a composition.
“You can see that he did it quickly and drew a little frame around it.
“It shows his brilliance, how quickly they were done, but also how he was able to create a real composition in a tiny format.”
Ms Zack said it had been exciting uncovering previously unpublished works by Constable and they were delighted with the final sale price.
“These works were fresh to the market and were in exceptional condition,” she said.
“ There was huge demand on the day with spirited bidding on several telephones and on the internet.
“A private collector on the telephone finally won out to rapturous applause in the saleroom.”
John Constable was born in East Bergholt in 1776 and is one of the most influential British artists of all time.
He is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale - famous examples include the Hay Wain from 1821, Wivenhoe Park from 1816 and Dedham Vale from 1802.
He was a member of the Royal Academy even though he sold far more paintings abroad in his lifetime than he did in Britain. He died in London in 1837.
John Day of the East Anglian Traditional Art Centre at Wickham Market and a specialist in drawings by Constable, said the appearance of the two sold at auction added to the knowledge of the artist’s working methods.
“They may have been part of a letter or from a sheet of working rough sketches,” he said.
“The discovery of previously unrecorded works always creates considerable interest and excites buyers at auction.
“Their high value is partly a result of them being the earliest know works relating to the subject.”