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John Constable

1776 – 1837

The Opening of Waterloo Bridge by John Constable

The Opening of Waterloo Bridge   c.1831-38

  Mezzotint by David Lucas as directed by John Constable.
With the artists’ names in the plate.
Ref: Shirley 31, prior to first published state.
S 265 x 340 mm; P 176 x 246 mm; I 137 x 221 mm
Unique proof impression, over-worked by David Lucas in pencil.

Excellent impression, extensively touched in pencil
by David Lucas with intended alterations, a number of which appear in the subsequent state of the plate (the first published state). With the rare first lettering, mis-spelling Constable’s name as “Dunstable” and giving Moon’s ‘publication’ line.

This engraving, along with five other subjects begun whilst John Constable was alive, were to have formed an appendix to the series Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery. They were lettered for F.G. Moon who is stated as publishing them “for the Proprietors” who, at this time, were Constable’s family. However, by 8th Sept.1846, David Lucas wrote regarding three of these subjects “I also send a proof of the Opening of Waterloo Bridge… these plates are not to be obtained, being exceeding rare.” (R.B. Beckett, John Constable’s Correspondence, vol.IV, pp.440-441).

It has even been suggested that the intended Appendix plates may never actually have been issued (L. Parris, John Constable & David Lucas, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York, 1993, p.109; I. Fleming-Williams & L. Parris, The Discovery of Constable, London, 1984, p.37). In the 1903 Catalogue of the Complete Works of David Lucas (Gooden & Fox, London, May 1903), this plate was catalogued as “unpublished”, and it is listed by Andrew Wilton as one of “the rare unpublished plates” (Constable’s ‘English Landscape Scenery’, London, 1979, p.102-3).

The grand opening of Rennie’s Waterloo Bridge by the Prince Regent had been held on 18th June 1817, the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. This composition occupied John Constable for a greater span of years than any other subject – it is known that John Constable was considering a large painting of this subject as early as 1819 and preparatory sketches from this period still exist; however, it was not until 1832 that John Constable’s large finished painting was eventually hung at the Royal Academy exhibition.

This image “shows the Prince embarking at Whitehall Stairs beside Fife House for the short river journey to the new bridge; the Lord Mayor’s barge figures prominently at the right. Beyond the left hand end of the bridge can be seen Somerset House, at this time the home of the Royal Academy. On the right bank the Shot Tower, only built in 1826, makes an anachronistic appearance”. (Constable, Tate Gallery, 1976, p.187)

Contemplated by John Constable as early as September 1829, this mezzotint plate had been started by David Lucas by the late summer of 1831. Although John Constable struggled with this composition, creating many different variants, both including and excluding the ceremonial activities and varying the angle of view relative to the river, it is clear that Lucas’s mezzotint engraving is based upon the exhibited painting which John Constable considered as the final result of his labours.

On March 3rd 1832, John Constable was visualising “The Waterloo-Bridge” for inclusion in the fifth number of his English Landscape Series and he is known to have considered the subject as a possible pair to the small plate of Hadleigh Castle (S.34). Lucas regarded these two engravings as very suitable companions, describing them as “fine subjects – indeed some of the best in the book” (letter dated 7th October 1832). However, this plate was not included in the initial Landscape Series publication, possibly as a result of John Constable’s continual indecision regarding the composition of this subject.

In 1835 John Constable began to discuss with the Lucas the idea of an Appendix to the English Landscape Series and by December 31st 1836 he can be found writing to Lucas “Don’t forget the Appendix’s”. The reply sent by Lucas would infer that the engravings were by then all but complete: “On Monday you shall see the appendix”; however, by the time of John Constable’s death in 1837, no such appendix had materialised. The plate of The Opening of Waterloo Bridge remained unpublished until 1838 when a very few impressions were printed by F.G. Moon, bearing his engraved lettering.

This unique touched proof impression is prior to Shirley’s first published state, but shows the full lettering found in that state, including Moon’s publication line. This early working example is prior to the introduction of the oars projecting from the long rowing boats beneath the flags in the mid-ground. In this impression the water in this area is still relatively clear and light. The drypoint oars are clearly apparent in subsequent impressions and in all of the published states. Much pencil work has been added to the trees and undergrowth at the left of the image, to the lower balustrade parts of the building at left, to the central tongue of land, to the water, and especially to the hulls of the boats. Many of the pencil alterations suggested on this proof impression are found engraved in Shirley’s first published state.

On firm cream wove paper with full margins. Registration pinholes at extreme corners of image. Some minor nicks supported by old tape at extreme edges of sheet, otherwise generally good original condition.

(This unique working proof impression is accompanied by an impression taken from the plate for H.G. Bohn’s 1855 edition.)