Notes & Observations

Constable’s ‘A boat passing a lock’ revisited

John Constable, R.A. A Boat passing a Lock 1826 Oil on canvas 101.60 x 127.0 cm Photo credit: © Royal Academy of Arts, London; Photographer: Prudence Cuming Associates Limited

John Constable, R.A.  ‘A Boat passing a Lock’, 1826, Oil on canvas, 101.60 x 127.0 cm. © Royal Academy of Arts, London

By Simon Holberton
One of the many treats to be had from visiting the Royal Academy exhibition at Bendigo is the handful of John Constable’s painting to view. Chief among them is his 1826 painting A boat passing a lock, illustrated above, a sort of ‘lyric ballad’ in paint. Constable was elected to the Royal Academy in 1829 and A boat passing a lock was the picture he submitted successfully for his ‘diploma’. He was 52.

Constable had been elected an Associate at the RA in 1819. Two years later he exhibited The Hay Wain to general acclaim, least not being from visiting French artists. Theodore Gericault loved the painting and it was brought to France by a dealer for exhibition at the Paris Salon of 1824 where it won a gold medal. Eugene Delacroix was taken with Constable’s use of colour.

The National Gallery in Melbourne has owned Constable’s full sized preparatory sketch for A boat passing a lock since 1951. It is a pity both pictures could not have been exhibited side by side, so we will attempt the next best thing here. Below is the NGV’s Constable. If you click on the pictures they will open in separate ‘windows’ and by resizing them on your screen you will be able to place them side by side. The colour registration for each is quite different, this partly reflects the reality of the two pictures, but it has more to do with the imperfections of the photography.  Compositionally, there are some changes in detail – the addition of a dog (King Charles spaniel?) in the foreground right, the addition of a person in a red jacket crossing the bridge in the far distance on the right, and he modifies the slope and direction of the central trees – but Constable follows very closely the prospectus set out in the sketch.

Sketch for A boat passing a lock, c.1823-1826, oil on canvas 102.2 x 128.0 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1951

Sketch for A boat passing a lock, c.1823-1826, oil on canvas 102.2 x 128.0 cm.     National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1951

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