View of Borrowdale

View of Borrowdale



John Constable, R.A. (1776-1837)
A view of Borrowdale, recto; with a study of four Cumbrian children, verso

Watercolour over pencil
13.3 by 18.4 cm., 5 ¼ by 7 ¼ in.

Clifford Constable;
Isabel Constable;
P.S. Clayton;
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 16 November 1962, lot 119, bt Agnew's;
With Thomas Agnew, where bought February 1963;
By descent to the present owner

Charles Rhyne, 'Constable Drawings and Watercolours in the Collections of Mr & Mrs Paul Mellon and the Yale Center for British Art: Part 1. Authentic Works', Master Drawings, No, 2, Summer 1981, p. 129, under no. 14 for a listing of the watercolour verso;
Graham Reynolds,
The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, 1996, Vol. Text, p, 106, no 06.242, p. 106; Vol. Plates, pl. 617, ill., recto: Vol. Text, p. no. 108, no. 06.260; vol. Plates, pl. 632, ill. verso

London, Thomas Agnew and Sons, 90th Annual Exhibition of Water-Colours and Drawings, 21st January to 2nd March 1963, no. 24

Constable spent just under two months between September and October 1806, in the Lake District. The trip was probably financed by his maternal uncle David Watts (1754-1816), who owned a house on Lake Windemere and is one of only a few 'sketching tours' in the traditional sense that Constable undertook.

Constable's visit was probably inspired by his early patron Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827) and fellow artist Joseph Farington (1747-1821), both of whom had been regular visitors since the 1770s. Constable would have been familiar with Farington's
Views of the Lakes &c in Cumberland and Westmorland, published in 1785, following his four year stay in Keswick between 1776 and 1780. Furthermore Constable would have known Girtin's watercolours of the Lake District, worked up from Beaumont's own studies. Beaumont was a keen supporter of Girtin and not only owned around thirty watercolours by the artist, but was also an associate member of Girtin's sketching club and he actively encouraged Constable to study Girtin's work, in addition to the Old Masters such as Claude and Poussin. An inscription on the verso of a similar watercolour in the V&A confirms some of Constable's main influences at this point, 'fine cloudy day tone very mellow like - the mildest of/Gaspar Poussin and Sir GB'.

The challenging and unfamiliar landscapes that Constable explored in the Lake District were in stark contrast to that of his native East Anglia and required Constable to become more experimental in order to capture both the landscape and the dramatic effects of light and shadow and the constantly changing atmospheric effects on the peaks. Ian Fleming-Williams notes: 'During this tour, greatly stimulated by the Lake scenery, Constable appears to have experienced within himself powerful and still deeper feelings about landscape and, gradually, through a process of stylistic blending and distillation, to have discovered ways of expressing these sensations' (Ian Fleming-Williams,
Constable and his Drawings, London, 1990, p. 77).His answer, as is clearly evidenced in the present watercolour was by reducing his palette, working with a greater tonal variety in soft, fluid washes, rather than through the use of hard line.

The results from this trip were impressive and he produced almost one hundred drawings and watercolours during his travels and was inspired to paint about a dozen oils on his return to London, many of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1807 and 1809. He was accompanied for much of the time by George Gardner (b.1778), a Kendall resident and the barrister son of the artist Daniel Gardner (1750-1805).

Borrowdale and its surroundings proved one of the most fertile regions of the Lakes for Constable and he ended up spending almost half of his entire visit there, arriving on 25
th September and not leaving until 13th October. His travelling companion Gardner left after about ten days, bored of the role of onlooker to Constable's productivity, leaving the artist to work without distraction. Topographically Borrowdale was almost cut off from its surroundings and the local population had relatively little contact with the outside world. This isolation adds a certain poignancy to Constable's study of children on the verso of the sheet. The River Derwent flowed through the central valley floor, which was surrounded by a series of endlessly varied peaks thus providing a constantly changing and enormously complex viewpoint. Interestingly the region was rich in plumbago and produced some of the purest graphite in Europe.

Many of the watercolours produced during this trip are spread through institutions throughout the world and other views of Borrowdale are found in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, The Yale Center for British Art, New Haven and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London