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John Constable

1776 – 1837

A Dell Helmingham Park, Suffolk by John Constable

A Dell Helmingham Park, Suffolk   1830

  Mezzotints by David Lucas as directed by John Constable; one with scraping out and watercolour wash by John Constable.
Ref: Shirley 12, between progress proof ‘d’ and ‘e’, together with two further impressions (Barnard 9 iii/v and v/v).
Dimensions of progress proof: S 292 x 424 mm; P 179 x 226 mm; I 147 x 185 mm
** A comparative group of variant three impressions. **

Unique early progress proof before all letters, re-worked by John Constable with scraping and grey watercolour wash
, sold together with a comparative impression of the same subject in Barnard’s third published state, and a further example in the final (fifth) published state.

The close collaboration between John Constable and his mezzotint engraver, David Lucas was one of the most successful artist/engraver relationships in the history of British printmaking. John Constable would provide the initial conception for each image and Lucas would interpret his ideas onto the plate, producing a progress proof at each stage of the engraving for Constable to advise upon, or correct and retouch, until the image was complete. These touched early progress proofs are the most sought after printed works in John Constable’s artistic œuvre, displaying both the process through which his images were developed and the richest quality of the fresh mezzotint burr.

This unique touched impression is one of the proofs on which John Constable worked to give directions to Lucas, developing the image, in order to balance the elements of the composition and to capture the fleeting moments of light and shade which he hoped to portray. John Constable chose to use this early impression, which has been printed with horizontal printing creases, as a working proof, amending the image with scraping and some retouching as a guide for Lucas. The area at the lower left of the image, just below the cow has been scraped down and touched in pale grey wash. It was in this area in the subsequent state that a white plant was introduced by scraping down the mezzotint burr. John Constable has added grey wash in the pale area above the stag, in order to vary the contrast in this area and has touched in the printing creases with grey and black washes.

This series of impressions provides a fascinating example of Lucas’s interpretive genius as an engraver. Indeed, this subject appears to have fired Lucas with particular enthusiasm - he had achieved the first state of this engraving in a mere 6½ hours, working passionately throughout the night on the plate. The vivacity and energy of his approach is evidenced clearly in the painterly engraving manner of the early proof which, apart from the foreground area, has required little adjustment since the first state of the plate.

This particular proof shows the freshly mezzotinted plate in one of the earliest stages of its development, between Shirley’s ‘d’ and ‘e’ states, before the large plant was introduced at the foot of the left bank (found in Shirley’s ‘e’ state), but with the horizontal strokes of drypoint in the water and with the small stag at the right introduced. In Shirley’s ‘f’ state the stag was much enlarged, the head of the cow at the lower left of the image was raised and the white stump above it was largely effaced. This early proof is also prior to numerous additional plants which were introduced at the lower right corner of the image.

The published version of this engraving was issued in the first part of John Constable’s masterwork Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery. In this great series, Constable’s aim was to express the “Chiar’Oscuro of Nature” and in this aim he was never more successful than in the impressive subject of A Dell, Helmingham Park, Suffolk. John Constable referred to this scene, as one of his favourite subjects and the published version of this mezzotint was previewed by The Athenæum in June 1830 stating “The Dell is one of those deep nooks, in which sadness communes with shadows, and which seems made for the painter. The shades are solemn as night; and between the tortuous sombre trees, you get at the garish light of day.”

John Constable made the original sketch for this engraving in the grounds of his early patron, the Countess of Dysart, at Helmingham in Suffolk and completed his painting of the subject in 1826 for his friend Mr. Pulham of Woodbridge. A favourite subject, Constable went on to make three other paintings of this composition.

The proof is on warm white laid paper, with full margins and deckle edge. There is a series of printing creases across the sheet. Two tears in outer margins of sheet, otherwise generally very good original condition. Provenance:collection of Osbert H. Barnard, one of the leading cataloguer’s of John Constable’s English Landscape mezzotints, with his collector’s stamp twice verso.

The accompanying impression in Barnard’s third published state (of five) provides a fascinating comparison, being a fine example of the plate as it was issued by John Constable, with all of the compositional amendments completed. The third print in this group is an example in the fifth and final published state, which shows the plate as it was used for mass publication by H.G. Bohn in 1855, with considerable signs of wear already apparent. Together, these three examples make a fascinating study group.