This is the fourth in a series of articles in which I discuss a recently-discovered progress proof of the mezzotint of ‘A Summerland’ made by David Lucas for John Constable in 1829.
Here I finish the collation of the stages through which the engraving evolved to publication. The major aesthetic revisions all occurred in the earlier states. Here Constable attends to a few finishing touches and tidies up around the edges for publication.
See part#2 for states (a) to (c) and part #3 for state (d)
Shirley state (e)
Shirley’s next state (e) is ‘Same size [as d]. Upper margin irregular. Drypoint added in sky, contrasts of clouds much softened; vertical roulette work added among diffused lights, l. Middle distance regrounded. The stream l. middle distance, made narrower and brought straighter across the subject: two cows added on near side of it. Drypoint added in l. foreground and at foot of l. tree; r. foreground scraped lighter and signature indistinct. A few small lights added in large tree r. The tower made shorter (about 3/32 inch high). – Boston, Brit. Mus.’
The British Museum impression is identified in the BM online catalogue as 1846,0130.15. This was bought by the museum direct from David Lucas in 1846.
Shirley was comparing this in sequence with his state (d) as represented by the impression in the British Museum 1842.1210.104. As we have seen, there were in fact several transitional states in between, and most of the changes itemised by Shirley were first introduced in the impression at the V&A E818.2016, given here as state d (iv), and the British Museum state (e) impression is almost identical to Fitzwilliam P1384-R, our state d (vii).
The significant material difference to the British Museum impression that separates it from the previous state is that the margins have been reduced all around. Quite what might be the explanation for this is unclear. It appears more accidental than deliberate, and is immediately restored in subsequent states. It is possible that when working on the plate Lucas used some kind of mask – possibly as simple as a card window mat – to protect the margins of the plate, and the repeated abrasion of that wore at the edge of the image.
The signature is, as Shirley says, indistinct, and indeed only the ‘D’ remains at all legible, but it does have to be admitted that it is more visible than it is in Fitzwilliam P.140. This may be due more to the fact that the BM impression is exceptionally sharp in contrast and detail, perhaps because especially well wiped and printed on highly responsive paper.
One slight but important new feature is a light diagonal scratch rising at the bottom right-hand corner, rising from left of the former ‘D’ in the signature towards the right edge. This was not noticed by Shirley and is not visible in Fitzwilliam Museum P.141.1954 (see below), but is obvious in all subsequent states, including the lettered and published impressions.
Shirley cites a second version of his state (e) at Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The museum’s online catalogue list three impressions of ‘The Summerland’, all acquired in 1913 from the collection of Francis Bullard, but none are reproduced and it is not clear to which impression Shirley refers.
Shirley also lists under his state (e): ‘A proof touched in pencil and chalk to emphasize the diffused lights in centre – Cambridge’. The only touched proof in the Fitzwilliam collection is their P.1383-R, which is here established to be a prior state, and treated here under d (i).
Shirley state (f)
Shirley’s state (f) is described as ‘6 x 8 29/32. Margins regrounded and a little enlarged. Touched with white chalk to show diffused lights and sparkling of bushes. –Metro. Ex Weir.’
This can be identified as Metropolitan Museum 25.51.15, which the Museum bought in 1925 from Mr J Alden Weir.
Diagonal scratch faintly visible l.r.
Shirley state (g)
Shirley’s state (g) is defined by clipping of r lower margin to make straight line: ‘g. 5 15/16 x 8 29/32. Before 1/32 cleared from bottom of r. margin to make a straight line. The sky finished. – Rienaecker.
This identifiable as Metropolitan Museum 33.25.9, which was bought from Rienaecker through Colnaghi in 1933.
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, P.141.1954 appears identical to Metropolitan Museum 33.25.9 except the bottom right margin is even more crisply defined. It is significant, however, that the light scratch at the bottom right is not visible, at least in my photo. This might be due to imperfect wiping of the plate in this area, or a generally more dense application of ink, for the lights are generally brighter in the dark areas in the Metropolitan Museum impression, even though the Fitzwilliam print is an extremely fine impression, and like the Met’s impression also printed on india paper to bring out every detail.
A further impression of this state appeared at Hall’s auctioneers, Shrewsbury on 18 September 2019, lot 42. This appears to be identical to Fitzwilliam Museum P.141.1954., and like that printed on india paper.
Here there are [at least] two artefacts that are unique to this impression. The first is a white mark on the ground below the horse, possibly caused by a fleck of paper on the plate, and the second is the lack of white highlights (the glint on the ploughshare) below the plough and a certain lack of detail to the plough wheels and traces in the same area. This appears to be the result of insufficient wiping of the plate in this area.
Shirley state (h)
Shirley describes his state (h) as #Finished. Before letters – Brit Mus., Horne, Leggatt, London, Rienaecker’.
The British Museum example can be identified as BM 1842,1210.103: The upper edge of the image – faint and rubbed in Met 33.25.9 – is now fully made up and defined. Beyond that there does not appear to be any revision to the image itself. Finally, Constable seems to have been able to approve the image for publication and the letter engraver was allowed to inscribed the title and publication details into the lower margin.
AS FIRST PUBLISHED
The result is undoubtedly a triumph. Sadly, as is all too frequently the case, the only person who doesn’t appear to have been able enjoy it was the artist.
In the next part we will return to the subject and explore the landscape that Constable depicted.
This is the third in a series of articles in which I discuss a recently-discovered progress proof of the mezzotint of ‘A Summerland’ made by David Lucas for John Constable in 1829.
Here I continue a collation of the many stages through which the engraving evolved to publication. This involves concentrated tracking of changes to the image and working out the order in which they occur. It’s not likely to appeal to everyone, but then the wider public has almost completely lost sight of the work, artistry, consummate skill and sheer endeavour that goes into the production of a hand produced engraving. Today, images proliferate almost infinitely, and most without any material substance. Constable’s ‘Summerland’ belongs to an age when all images were hand produced, hard won and highly crafted objects. More even than that, the art of hand producing and printing engravings was at its absolute peak. Within a few short years the process was industrialised and automated and overtaken by new image technologies. For now, however, these prints bear witness to some of the greatest heights that this particular image craft ever reached. It more than deserving of some effort of appreciation.
[see Part#2 for states a-c]
Shirley state (d)
When Lucas next touched this plate it was to again increase the dramatic activity in the sky. Up until now the plate remained close to the original painting that Constable had provided, but from now on the sky became a new conception altogether. In what follows I start with state (d) as given by Hon Andrew Shirley in his book , ‘The Published Mezzotints of David Lucas after John Constable’, Oxford, 1930, and find room to add six new states to that before his next, state (e). This represents the most crucial phase in the development of the image.
Shirley’s next state (d) is identified with an impression at the British Museum, which is listed in their online catalogue as BM 1842.1210.104. Like state (a) described above, this was bought by the Museum from Constable’s friend and patron James Baker Pulham, only five years after the artist’s death.
Shirley itemises the changes thus: ‘d Same size. Diagonal clouds, pencil of diffused light added, l. The tower added on hill r. Signature distinct.’
Newly-discovered impression, 2018 Detail of left part of sky
BM 1842.1210.104 Detail of left part of sky
The most obvious differences are in the sky. There are now dramatic crepuscular rays upper and lower left, centre left and across the entire undercloud area along the horizon. In addition there is an extensive area of cirrus cloud in the open sky upper left, and extensive linear underlighting of the clouds across the whole of the composition and extensive lightening of the sky above the horizon, especially in the centre and to the right.
In the landscape there are several enduring changes that may be tracked through later impressions. On the horizon towards the left there is a new white building immediately at the centre of the ray of light. This reinstates a building that was there in states (a) and (b), but lost in state (c). On the right horizon is a new tower with a highlight at its tip.
In the middle distance the lights on the fields have been strengthened; to the left immediately above the sheep and further off beyond the cows, and there is a similar heightening of the contrast in the middle distance centre.
Newly-discovered impression, 2018 Detail of ploughman
BM 1842.1210.104 Detail of ploughman
The most important difference in the foreground is the introduction of a new light on the back of the central ploughman. This brings him into more dynamic play in the composition. Apart from that there are a couple of new lights in the trees cutting the horizon at the extreme left, the light stoke of the distant river has been lengthened and brightened and a there is a slight reduction of the right-hand light in the light building below right of the new tower towards the right.
The signature is still plainly readable.
Shirley (d) also mentions ’A proof touched in white chalk to show changes in sky. – Horne’ Shirley pp.155-6 speaks of: ‘The very fine collection, also made during the dark ages of Lucas’s reputation by the late Mr H P Horne, was unhappily catalogued in haste a few days before it was dispersed at auction; the present writer regrets that, for this reason and since it was the first collection with which he attempted to deal, he cannot claim complete reliability for his notes on it, except in those cases where he was able to see the proofs again at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.’ Only one of the Met’s ‘Summerland’ prints was accessioned before 1930 (25.51.15), but the provenance of that does not mention Horne. That is, however touched with chalk, and wants consideration later, rather than here.
The next state was unknown to Shirley, and is represented by an impression offered by Gerrish Fine Art in 2018
This is described by Gerrish’s online catalogue as Shirley’s state (d) but there is sufficient new work to the plate represented by the British Museum example (1842.1210.104) to constitute a different state and warrant a separate numeration.
The landscape forms are unchanged, but there is considerable new work in the sky. There is some elaboration of the lights at the upper left, more work in the cirrus clouds upper left, trails of cirrus in the right part of the open sky, darkening and dramatizing of the sky above the horizon from the centre to the right, new work in the central clump of cloud, the bridge between it and the right clump, and more work towards the right in the right-hand clump.
This state brought the composition to a high degree of resolution and refinement, but Constable was still not satisfied.
Another impression of the same state is at the Fitzwilliam Museum (P1383-R) but touched with white chalk and graphite to indicate changes. Constable adds a new crepuscular ray towards the left, eliminates the lower strands of cirrus in the open sky, and seeks to lighten again the right-hand horizon.
Nor, significantly, is the signature visible in this impression. It has presumably been blotted out by Constable, but the instruction was not heeded immediately, for it is retained at least through a couple more states.
Shirley did not know of an impression at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (40.9.5). This was bought by the Museum in 1940 from the dealer Knoelder, who in turn had it from the British collector John Charrington. In 1910 Charrington was the source of the core collection of proofs at the Fitzwilliam Museum. These appear to have descended from David Lucas to H S Theobald. Quite how or why this has a separate Charrington provenance is unknown.
Gerrish Fine Art proof 2018 Detail of crepuscular ray
Metropolitan Museum (40.9.5) Detail of crepuscular ray
This impression represents a strike immediately after the revisions proposed in the Fitzwilliam touched proof (P1383-R). The underside of the crepuscular ray to the left of centre has been lightened as indicated, the cirrus upper left has been toned back, and that to the right of the open sky eliminated. The sky towards the right horizon has been much lightened, and a bright streak introduced behind the right-hand tower, and at the extreme right is the first appearance of a distinct upturn to the undercloud, which persists throughout the subsequent states.
The most striking new work, however is to be found in the central clump of cloud bridging across to the right half of the sky. Here the new work is bold and unresolved; still raw upon the plate.
The signature is still clearly visible at the lower right.
This impression in a private collection was unknown to me when this article first appeared in October 2018. It was communicated to me by a reader in January 2019. Its appearance justifies the decision in the original articles not to attempt an entire new numbering on the grounds that new states are almost bound to materialise. As it turns out, inserting new examples is not as straightforward as I hoped. This one sits between The Metropolitan Museum’s 40.9.5, here called d (ii), and the V&A’s 819.2016, here called d (iii). I have eventually decided to call the new state d (iib), and leave the Met impression as d (ii). That leaves an option open in the event of another state turning up between these!
There are several material alterations to the plate between the Metropolitan Museum print and this. The bold swathe of new tone in the centre right of the sky that was introduced in the former is still present but considerably ameliorated in the darker tones further right. The most obvious new feature is the crepuscular ray at the far left, but there are other elaborations and refinements in details all over the sky. Two small details are the reduction of the width of the light on the church tower on the left horizon (above left of the large tree) and the reduction of the tower of Stoke by Nayland church on the right horizon.
Perhaps the most telling detail of all is one of the smallest; that is the introduction of a dark tower on the horizon to the right of centre, just above the left part of the pollarded tree to the right of the ploughman. This is its first appearance in the sequence and it subsists throughout all later impressions. It might be a small detail but it adds greatly to the composition by pulling the eye into the furthest distance, and by so doing renders sublime the pictorial space. That would provide quite sufficient reason for Constable to have invented it and it does not figure in either version of the composition in oils. It remains tantalisingly possible, however, that this detail might be grounded in observable fact. There is a mark in the original sketch that might indicate a church tower on that bearing, and looking at the maps, the line of sight leads directly to the tower of Great Henny church some 12.9 miles distant. I have not yet managed to find a window of good weather to make my promised site visit, but it will be quite something if Great Henny church can actually be seen.
[Click on any image to enlarge and scroll through gallery]
John Constable Landscape: Ploughing scene in Suffolk (A Summerland), 1814 Oil on canvas, 19 7/8 x 30 1/8 in, 505 x 765 mm Private Collection Post-restoration Image scanned from G Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, 1996, pl.1095
John Constable Ploughing Scene in Suffolk (A Summerland), 1824 to 1825 Oil on canvas, 16 3/4 x 30 inches (42.5 x 76.2 cm) Frame: 25 × 37 3/4 inches (63.5 × 95.9 cm) Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA, Paul Mellon Collection, B1977.14.41 Image courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
John Constable The Stour Valley from Flatford Lane near East Bergholt, 25 July 1813 Graphite on paper, 4 ¾ x 3 ½ ins, 120 x 89 mm Page 12 of a sketchbook used in Suffolk and Essex in 1813 London, Victoria and Albert Museum, (317-1888) Image scanned from G Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, 1996, pl.1013 ]
The impression has been extensively touched by Constable in white chalk (or watercolour) and graphite. On the evidence of the next state, V&A 819.2016, the light marks rather counter-intuitively, have been adopted as added darks, whilst the graphite marks as areas for making lighter.
The print is inscribed in pencil with the title ‘A Summerland. Rainy Day’. The hand is not that of Constable. The form of title specifying the subject as a ‘Rainy Day’ was first used by him in the prospectus for the complete edition in 1833. In correspondence Constable initially calls it ‘The Summerland’ before settling generally on ‘A Summerland’.
The signature is still clearly visible at the lower right.
There are still several states to be considered before Shirley’s next (e).
This impression represents the implementation of changes indicated in the private collection proof, but also introduces a good deal of new work into the sky.
There are numerous enduring changes of detail and emphasis. There is a huge variety of new highlights and detail in the sapling to the left of the plough, in the hedge and pollarded tree as well as the whole range of trees across the mid-distance.
Metropolitan Museum (40.9.5) Detail of left side before new cows
In the middle distance at the left the stream has been made more prominent and two cows added in the meadow below it. Further right, the tower of Stoke by Nayland has been further reduced by completely eliding the highlight at its tip.
The major work is in the sky. The rough new work in the Metropolitan Museum impression has been still further softened and ameliorated, and the crepuscular rays better defined, and mingled with drifts of rain, both by being lightened with a burnisher and darkened with a fine roulette and drypoint. The prominence of the rays against the dark cloud and as they fall to the ground is greatly increased. Most obviously there are light streaks of cloud now against the darker cloud mass to the left, and the continuation of this into the open sky centre is much more detailed and defined. There is a new patch of dark tone in the cloud to the right, which is softened in subsequent states.
Signature still visible at lower right.
This is a comparatively lightly inked impression, which lacks the tonal richness and power of most others, but in compensation exhibits an astonishing clarity of detail in the darker areas, greater than any seen thus far. Looking back through previous states, it seems obvious that most, if not all, of the shadow detail has been present since the earliest states. It is just that the plates tend to be densely inked in the darker areas.
This impression represents a refinement of V&A E819.2016. There is more work softening and melding in the sky.
By now it is apparent that the central horse is being progressively lightened. Because of the variations in the degree to which the different proofs are inked, it is hard to be certain exactly to what degree the lightening occurs in each state. Suffice it to say that in the Metropolitan Museum proof 40.9.5, the horse is definitely brown. By the V&A proof E819.2016 it is definitely white, and by Fitzwilliam Museum P139.1954, it is distinctly so. Between The Metropolitan Museum proof and V&A 819 Constable seems to lighten the rear quarters; in V&A 818 he lightens the whole horse, and in Fitzwilliam Museum P139.1953, lightens it still further.
Signature still visible at lower right, albeit not so clearly as in previous versions.
Fitzwilliam Museum P139.1954. Posterior to V&A E818.2016, since the central horse now made emphatically white, the white building at right now toned down and likewise the trunk of the large tree at left. On the horizon the prominence of the light church towards the left has been reduced by toning down its ancillary building. The most obvious new feature, however is three stones in the left foreground. This is a very well inked impression, perhaps overly so, especially in comparison to V&A E.818, and the darks are rich and velvety, which makes the light horse very much the focal point of the whole composition, and the chiaroscuro very much more dramatic and structured. There is a corresponding loss of fine detail in the shadows, but this seems to have been Constable’s certain intention, for looking back at the lighter V&A impression the attention seem completely distributed and distracted, and as a result the force of the composition as a whole dissipated into its (albeit beautiful) details.
Another impression of this same state appeared at Chiswick Auctions, London, 27 June 2019, lot 372. This is identical to Fitzwilliam P139.1954, except for the upper edge being less distinctly printed. The Chiswick impression is particularly interesting for having been printed on paper reused from another mezzotint. On the back is part of Henry Dawe’s engraving after a painting by Michael William Sharpe (1777-1840) entitled ‘The Bee’s Wing’, published 1 June 1824.
Quite what were the circumstances of Lucas using an impression in this way are unknown, but he appears to have quartered a print and used the top right corner with the toper’s head and the raised glass to take this impression of ‘A Summerland’. Dawe’s print is fine work, and Lucas would have studied it closely for technique. His principal motive, however, was probably to see how ‘The Summerland’ would print on this kind of paper. When one works through the whole series of ‘Summerland’ trial proofs, it becomes plain that Lucas and Constable tried a very wide variety of papers. There are hardly two the same. Some are much yellower, but most are more yielding to the pressure of the plate, giving a smooth finish to the surface of the print. In this case the paper is tough enough to have resisted the press. The plate impression is shallow, and there is still good texture to the surface within the plate margins, but the Fitzwilliam print P139.1954 has greater definition in the sky, even at the expense of being more dense in the darker passages of the foreground. Constable seems to have been looking for a paper that would yield sufficiently to take maximum detail and sensitivity of tone, but stout enough to have character.
The Fitzwilliam Museum has another impression (P140.1954) that is almost identical to P.139.1954 except for a few extra lights in the hedgerow towards the right. Another significant difference is that the signature bottom right is now elided.
The Metropolitan Museum has an impression (40.9.6) that was unknown to Shirley. This was acquired in 1940 from the dealers Knoelder and bears the blind stamp of the well-known British collector John Charrington.
This appears almost identical to Fitzwilliam P.140.1954, except for the fact that it has been extensively touched with white chalk (or watercolour). These marks appear to call for extensive work around the white horse’s tack, the far horse, and across the large tree left and the trees in the middle distance, as well as in the ray at the top left. None of these changes appear to have been attempted by Lucas and none of the subsequent states up to publication show any extensive new work in those areas.
The Fitzwilliam Museum has yet another impression P1384R, which also appears identical to P.140.1954, except for the first appearance of a light slipped stroke towards the left. This feature is not mentioned by Shirley with regard to any state, but is easily found to the left of the dark tower vertically cutting the horizon and distant hillside at the foot of a light crepuscular ray. This remains persistent in all subsequent states up to publication.
The signature is elided, but perhaps faintly traceable.
This is the second of a series of articles in which I discuss a recently-discovered progress proof of the mezzotint of ‘A Summerland’ made by David Lucas for John Constable in 1829.
Here I begin a collation of the many stages through which the engraving evolved to publication. This might well strike many general readers as a rather elaborate game of ‘spot the difference’. There will be many images that look very similar. Worse still, they will all be in black and white. The discussion will at times be a little dry. Unless you are an academic, a dealer, a serious collector, or enjoy tedious detail, you might be best advised to wait for subsequent parts. These will explore the landscape itself, Constable’s development of the subject and its significance in his wider artistic achievement. There will eventually be colour again, and outdoor activity.
But these mezzotints are arguably some of Constable’s masterworks. Although they were actually made by a young engraver called David Lucas, Constable so closely directed his hand and so fretted about the prints’ aesthetic quality and detail, that they might easily be considered as autograph, and certainly as direct and authentic artistic output. As we shall see, Constable attended to the very finest details, and worried about achieving exactly the effects of handling and representation that he needed. That is why there are so many different states, and in working closely through the sequence we may follow exactly in his artistic footsteps. There is real treasure amongst all this dust, and it is worth a good deal of riddling to find it out.
The principal collections of proofs are to be found at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the British Museum, London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Many other museums hold individual examples or small groups, often amongst good collections of ‘English Landscape’ subjects. I have collated the major collections and noticed some of the other examples, but this list cannot pretend to be definitive. It seems obvious that there must be other impressions to be noticed, and perhaps wholly new states to be listed.
Hon Andrew Shirley’s, ‘The Published Mezzotints of David Lucas after John Constable’, Oxford, 1930 still remains the most complete collation of all the progress proofs.
Shirley’s account of the published states has been superseded by Osbert H Barnard’s ‘Lucas-Constable: English Landscape, Revised List of States’, published in Print Quarterly, Vol.1, No.2 (June 1984), pp.120-123, but it is the progress proofs with which I am here concerned, and Barnard excludes those. Using the definition of a material alteration to the plate, I have been able to add a considerable number of states to Shirley’s list. However, since my list will no doubt be superseded in its turn, and because Shirley’s order remains sound, I have decided not to attempt to impose a new numeration. Instead I take Shirley’s alphabetic taxonomy and simply add a subnumeration, but only for substantive material changes in the plate. The same plate can print quite differently on different papers, or with different inks, or by the plate being wiped differently, or depending on an infinite variety of ambient factors. I note any such variations as we go along. I’m happy to leave a completely new numeration to a future scholar who might be confident that such a scheme will usefully subsist.
THE PROGRESS PROOFS:
Shirley state a:
Shirley’s 1930 catalogue under no.10 identifies the earliest-known state as: ‘a 5 15/16 x 8 7/8. Bottom margin not cleaned. The clouds only lightly grounded and not much developed; a faint rainbow in the sky. The plain broadly treated, before many lights there and before most work on trees and hedge r., and distance r. The signature in r. bottom corner indistinct. Inscribed by Lucas ‘2 thi[s] state 2’. –Brit Mus.’
Shirley does not give the exact reference, but by a process of elimination this can be identified as British Museum 1842.1210.102. This was bought by the British Museum in 1842 from James Baker Pulham, who, with his father James Pelham of Woodbridge Suffolk, was a friend and patron of Constable.
Shirley was researching in the late 1920s when photography was a rather different business than today. It was possible for professional photographers to produce excellent prints, but to resolve the finest detail of images such as these – whose grain is positively microscopic, and whose subtlety of tonal level and nuance is the very substance of their artistic excellence – was impossible. It is a serious challenge even for modern digital technology whose resolution, tonal range and control could not have been imagined in the 1920s. Suffice it to say that when Shirley did work from photographs [and there is no other way that he could have compared states, except across the holdings of individual collections] then his ability to gauge detail and tone would have been seriously compromised. It seems plain that his description of the BM impression: ‘clouds only lightly grounded and not much developed’ is only relatively true. In later states of the image, Constable, the Shakespeare of skies, drove Lucas to produce one of the most magnificently complex and high-wrought cloudscapes of the entire history of art, and one of the artist’s and the engraver’s masterpieces. Even here, however, we see a highly resolved and tonally rich production, almost Rubensian in character. Nevertheless, as we shall see, it was not enough for Constable.
Shirley also says that ‘The plain broadly treated, before many lights there and before most work on trees and hedge r., and distance r. ‘ This is unrepresentative of how much has already been achieved: There is indeed a lot of new work to come in later states, but there is already a good deal of work resolved in the plain, and whilst later states show improvements and revisions to the mid-distance areas and the hedge, much of the key detail and form in both is already present.
Shirley records that the BM impression is inscribed by David Lucas ‘2 thi[s] state 2’. The implication of this appears to be that only two impressions were pulled of this state, and additionally, perhaps that this was actually the second state. It seems unlikely that the plate would have progressed as far as this without at least one earlier proof to check its progress.
Shirley state (b)
Shirley’s second state is ‘b Same size. Bottom margin not clean. Still with light ground and rainbow in the sky. The plain bright, and three cows added l. of l. tree. The hedge r. scraped a little but the trees behind still black and the distance not developed. A sapling just visible by the plough. The signature indistinct. Inscribed ‘only state’. – Cambridge.’
This can be identified with the Fitzwilliam Museum impression P.1381-R, which was presented to the Museum in 1910 along with a stellar collection of ‘English Landscape Scenery’ proofs that were in the collection of H S Theobald sold at Christie’s in April 1910 (where this lot 1090). These appear to have been from David Lucas’s own collection, descended to Alfred Lucas.
There are various inscriptions: At the lower left in ink, ‘only state N3’; in the left lower margin in pencil, ‘only state’; and in the lower right corner in pencil, ‘(1)’. The latter indicates its position in a sequence, probably of states, though by whom is unclear – but see below under Fitzwilliam Shirley state (c). Finally, the print is also inscribed under the centre of the lower plate line in pencil, ‘233’, which is probably its number in Theobald’s collection. The inscription leaves no doubt that this is certainly to be identified as Shirley’s state ‘b’.
In terms of some of the specific details that he mentions Shirley seems to be in error. He says of the Fitzwilliam impression that ‘three cows added l. of l. tree’, but these are also present in the BM impression and are unchanged here. There is, however, one material difference in this area. The stream below the cows, which is shown as a complete light line in the BM impression is here textured out except at the far left. Below that, the small ploughman prints much more clearly, and might have been lightened. There is also a white scratch or slipped stroke that descends from the left part of the white sheep, above, to the right part of the plough. This stroke is faintly visible in the BM impression, and persist in proofs of later states. Also in this same area is another change. Above right of the white sheep is a poplar tree and to the right of that the roof of a house. Two new white marks occur in the foliage to the right of the roof, and these persist in later states.
Shirley also says ‘The hedge r. scraped a little but the trees behind still black and the distance not developed’. The most obvious differences are the sprinkling of new lights across the central band of trees and hedgerow. The light of a building just below the horizon towards the right has been heightened but the distance in these areas in both cases is already almost fully developed.
One significant difference is the reworking of the central light. In the British Museum impression, it looks very much as if it was intended to be a rainbow. This might well be a Rubensian touch, but, as Constable would have well known, completely impossible. It looks possible that it was a misinterpretation by Lucas of some feature in the original painting. Either way, this area has been reworked. The light in the sky has been rendered light against a darker toned background, and the continuation of the light below the horizon has been diminished. Shirley is surely wrong to continue to see it here as a rainbow. The intended reading now seems to be of a crepuscular ray in the far distance. It might be admitted that it is not totally successful. The rays require straightening to be entirely convincing; as it is, they still follow the curve of the original bow.
Finally Shirley says: ‘A sapling just visible by the plough’, and whilst this will come into greater prominence in later states, it is equally present and visible in the British Museum and Fitzwilliam impressions, albeit except for perhaps a new highlight stroke on the trunk of the Fitzwilliam impression.
The upper right margin seems to have been cleaned up for the Fitzwilliam impression, and the BM impression has two tiny vertical strokes on the upper keyline towards the right.
‘The ‘only state’ inscription on the Fitzwilliam impression might be taken to mean that this was the only proof pulled of this state. In passing it might be noted that the ‘N3’ of the inscription might be a date, November 3.
At this point Constable instructed Lucas to comprehensively rework the sky. The first explicit reference to this is in a letter of 26 February 1830. ‘I have taken much pains with the last proof of ‘The Summerland’, but I fear I shall be obliged to reject it – it has never recovered from its first trip up, and the sky with the new ground is and ever will be as rotten as cow dung’.
This begs some explanation. The new sky eventually became magnificent, and as represented in Shirley’s next state, (c) is already rather good. The first ‘trip up’ appears to have been that in states (a) and (b) lacked tonal depth and impact. It is quite faint in state (b) and, as we shall see, in Shirley’ state ‘c’ much enriched. We will also consider the phrase ‘Rotten as cow dung’ under state (c).
Before we reach that point we must first consider an impression at the Fitzwilliam Museum (P138.1954) that he did not know. This represents the first reworking of the sky as mentioned by Constable in the letter above. It injects tone and contrast to a quite outlandish extent, and quite sufficiently to explain Constable’s subsequent anxieties about the image. The Fitzwilliam online catalogue lists this as Shirley state c (II), but the work on the plate is plainly anterior to (c), so is here numbered as b (i).
The foreground and most of the middle distance towards the horizon is exactly as in state (b), (Fitzwilliam Museum P1381-R) but the sky has been subject to an almost manic rework. The manner of this, however is almost perfectly in keeping with Constable’s own later oil sketches, and it seems perfectly possible that Lucas was following the artist’s instructions. It might further be observed that the boisterous handling is very similar to that of a large plate of ‘Hadleigh Castle’, on which Lucas was working contemporaneously.
In the process of the rework the light church on the horizon towards the left has been effaced. This is eventually reinstated, but is a good marker for the order of subsequent states.
Shirley state (c)
Shirley’s state (c) is an impression at the Fitzwilliam Museum that may be identified as (P.1382-R).
In this, the foreground up to the horizon is unchanged from state b (i) (Fitzwilliam Museum P.138.1954), and indeed from state (b) (Fitzwilliam Museum P1381-R) but the rough reworking of the sky has been greatly ameliorated and resolved. In general the rough darks have been eliminated, the lights smoothed, the tonal transitions rendered less abrupt, the horizon lightened and redefined, and the curtains of rain in the distance rendered more subtle and sensitive. Some cirrus clouds have been added at the top right.
In truth, the result is not that dissimilar to state (b), except in so far as the whole sky has more tonal presence. The effect is most emphatic in the right half, and the whole patch of open sky in the centre has greater presence. The result of the reworking, however, is that the whole sky, but most noticeably amongst the curtains of rain above the horizon, and in the upper parts, has acquired much more texture than it had in states (a) and (b). The Fitzwilliam impression is lighter toned than that at the British Museum, but in both the lights have greater degree of transparency. It must have been this characteristic that so agitated Constable, and although ‘rotten as cow dung’ seems an over-reaction, it is undeniable that in some places the sky now has a quality rather more material than ethereal.
The word ‘rotten’ suggests an almost atavistic feeling of revulsion. Constable returned to the theme slightly later in the letters when on 2 March 1830 [Beckett p.326 he told Lucas: ‘Take care to avoid rottenness, it is the worst quality of all.’ So what did Constable mean, and why was the feeling so strongly held?
Anyone who has ever painted will understand the problem. Without firm technique it is all too easy for a work to collapse into a mess. When this happens it can seem as if our highest hopes and finest intentions had turned corrupt and diseased. Most artists work in fear of such horror, and safeguarded only the most rigorous effort, planning and technique. But when things go awry, the work becomes as repugnant as ordure. It is as if the making of art is the most primordial of struggles; to construct something fine in an environment that wants to corrupt everything into excrement. The remainder of this story is of Constable’s success in keeping this image out of the mire, and eventually lifting it into the light.
The Fitzwilliam impression is inscribed in ink at the lower left corner of the sheet ‘2 in this state N5’. Shirley identifies the hand as David Lucas. It is certainly the same hand as in the Fitzwilliam’s state (b) (P1381-R), but presents some problems of interpretation. The final N5 might be taken as a date, November 5th, except for the fact that state (b) is inscribed ‘N3’, which would leave only two days for the sky to have been regrounded as in state b (i) and reworked as here. This is not impossible – Lucas is known to have stayed up all night working on a plate.
The inscription clearly states that there were only two impressions taken of this state. At least three more similar impressions are known; one mentioned by Shirley under his State (c) as in the collection of Victor Rienaecker and two more at the V&A (E821/822.2016). Neither of the V&A impressions seem to have been known to Shirley.
First of all, however, the impression mentioned by Shirley as in the Rienaecker collection is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (39.68.13), having been sold by Rienaecker through Colnaghi in 1939 and bought by the museum through the Harris Brisbane Dick Fund. Shirley notes that this impression is ‘inscribed in an unknown hand; ‘Only one, before the new ground for the sky’. The note appears mistaken on all counts. It follows the regrounding of the sky, and is one of several impressions representing the same state.
The two plates at the V&A 821/822.2016 appear to be identical to both the Fitzwilliam Museum P1382-R and the Metropolitan Museum impressions and we can comfortably assign all these to the same state number (c). This also leaves the Lucas inscription on the Fitzwilliam impression that there were ‘2 in this state’ in evident error. It might be that sharper eyes than mine will be able to distinguish further between them.
The newly-discovered impression that provides the occasion for this artcle is artistically identical to the impressions belonging to State (c). I can find no material differences between the images per se. The crucial difference, however, is in the bottom right-hand corner of the plate, where one can now, and for the first time, clearly read the inscription: ‘D Lucas 1829’.
Lucas has obviously visited this area with the drypoint and made out the inscription. Looking back at earlier states, however, it is tempting to see indications of a nascent inscription right from the beginning. Shirley felt so too, and his account of the various states constantly finds signs of it, but not quite resolved. Of his state (a) he says ‘The signature in the r.bottom corner indistinct.’ Of his state (b) he says ‘The signature indistinct’, and of state (c) ‘Signature still indistinct’. Only of his state (d) as we shall see, does he say ‘Signature distinct’. Of his next state ‘e’ he says that it is again indistinct, and it remains thus thereafter. So only in the present state (c) and those to be identified with Shirley state (d) does the signature appear at all clearly. If it were not for the signature as it appears here, one might not see it at all in the earlier impressions. Lucas appears to attempting to smuggle it into the composition. Given its short life-span in the states, one might surmise that Constable objected. The image, after all, belonged entirely to the artist.
So far as I know this is the only impression of Shirley state (c) in which the signature is so crisply made out. It does, however, remain equally clear in various impressions of Shirley state (d)
One peculiarity worth noting here is that this impression is spattered with small brown droplets. These occur only within the plate margin so must have settled on the plate between wiping and printing. The V&A’s impression 822.2016 is similarly marked, although the distribution is not exactly contiguous. It is unclear what might be the explanation for this.
The newly-discovered impression is also distinguished by being inscribed in graphite in the lower margin with its title ‘The Summerland’. Comparison with the same word where it occurs in the Lucas/Constable correspondence at the Fitzwilliam Museum suggests that the inscription might be by Constable himself.
There is always a slight separation of the two ‘m’s and another between ‘Summer’ and ‘land’, even when the ‘l’ of land is lower case. Across the instances the treatment of ‘Summerlan’ is completely consistent with the title here. The only variation is in the final ‘d’, which, whilst of the same general form, usually has a final horizontal flourish to the right. There are two instances in the correspondence, however, where it is identical to that here – in letters of ?summer 1830 (Shirley number 23; Beckett p.334) and 7 October 1832 (Shirley 120; Beckett pp. 382-3). Altogether, and especially given the orthographic idiosyncrasies, the comparison appears convincing.
This is the first of a series of articles in which I introduce a recently-discovered progress proof of the mezzotint titled ‘A Summerland’ made by David Lucas for John Constable in 1829. Here I discuss finding and identifying the new work, and in subsequent parts will explore Constable’s development of the subject, the specific development of the mezzotint and the significance of the subject in Constable’s wider artistic achievement.
This was offered as ‘Attributed to John Sell Cotman 1782-1842 – ‘The Summer Land’, engraving pencil title’, at Bentley’s auction rooms, Cranbrook Kent, 7 July 2018, lot 634, against an estimate of only £20-40.
The auctioneer appears to have been guided by a label affixed to the back, which reads: ‘Classical Cotman. Frame & mount wash and gold leaf line. 11 x 8 1/2 in opening sight. 3 ins top and sides, 3 1/2 in bottom. Present from Alan Reynolds. Framed by Savage, March 1957.’
The print is, rather, a progress proof before letters of a mezzotint made by David Lucas for John Constable’s series of ‘English Landscape Scenery’. The project was begun in the later summer of 1829 and ‘The Summerland’ was among the first subjects to be commenced. The completed series comprised of twenty-two mezzotints of paintings by Constable made by Lucas under Constable’s close aesthetic and artistic supervision. The core set may be taken to be original works by Constable, personally directing the hand of the engraver as his amanuensis.
I wrote about the series in my book ‘Constable’s English Landscape Scenery’ published by John Murray in 1985. At that time my over-riding concern was with Constable’s process of self-identification through his art. I must confess that I was less interested in the detailed evolution of the individual mezzotints. The discovery of this proof, however, has newly focused me upon that aspect, as well as made me to think again about the way in which this subject reflects the broader and deeper issues in his art.
The standard study of the ‘English Landscape’ project is Hon Andrew Shirley’s, ‘The Published Mezzotints of David Lucas after John Constable’, Oxford, 1930. This sets in context the relationship between Lucas and Constable, gives the full correspondence between them and compiles an as-yet unsurpassed listing of the progress proofs of each plate. Working again with this splendid treasure of scholarship has been a pleasure in itself.
I have also had occasion to revisit R B Beckett’s extraordinary volumes of ‘John Constable’s Correspondence’. The fourth volume annotates the full correspondence between Constable and Lucas with a meticulous commentary and chronology of the series. When I read Beckett’s volumes when working towards the publication of my own book, they struck me as containing some of the finest, most immersive scholarship I had ever encountered. They have been a constant recourse throughout my teaching career, and I have routinely encouraged students to loose themselves in its mazes. It is a delight to be able to purposefully re-immerse myself in them.
The first that we hear of ‘The Summerland’ in particular is in a letter dated 26 December 1829, in which Constable requests four proofs.
Given that the present impression is dated 1829 in the plate by David Lucas, it seems a solid inference that the present impression must have been one of those four or from an earlier proofing. After this the subject went through various states before being issued in Part 4 in 1831. Only a small number of impressions – four or fewer – were proofed at each stage of development.
One exceptional feature of this subject is how much trouble Constable took over the sky. Shirley says that early in the development of the image Constable made Lucas reground and rework the sky. In his list, the first impression with the new sky is his state 10c, a copy of which is at the Fitzwilliam Museum (P.1382-R). This appears to be almost identical with the recently-discovered example, except for the signature, bottom right. This is the first state in which it can be read distinctly as ‘1829/ D Lucas’.
There are also two very similar impressions at the V&A (E821/822.2016) and another at the Metropolitan Museum, New York (39.68.13). These differ from the Fitzwilliam impression (p.1382-R) in having a more distinct signature and date at the bottom left. This appears more distinctly in the recently discovered example, but that may be only because the others were more densely inked. After the ink was applied, the plate had to be especially well wiped for the finest highlights to print cleanly.
The V&A’s online catalogue of their ‘English landscape’ proofs suggests that it would be worth making a thorough collation of all the known proofs. The present subject continued to evolve the sky through several further stages, and I have attempted a collation of all the states that I have been able to identify. This follows below, and is complete as I can make it at this stage. Further impressions might very well present themselves for consideration.
The title inscription appears to be by Constable himself. There are several letters from the period that survive, and some, discussing the project with Lucas and others, in which he has written exactly the same phrase. The majority are at the Fitzwilliam Museum where there are about twenty instances of Constable writing ‘Summerland’. Comparison shows that Constable was remarkably consistent in the way that he wrote the word. There is almost always a slight separation of the two ‘m’s and anther between ‘Summer’ and ‘land’, even when the ‘l’ of land is lower case. Across the instances the treatment of ‘Summerlan’ is completely consistent with the title here. The only variation is in the final ‘d’, which, whilst of the same general form, usually has a final horizontal flourish to the right. There are two instances in the correspondence, however, where it is identical to that here – in letters of ?summer 1830 (Shirley number 23; Beckett p.334) and 7 October 1832 (Shirley 120; Beckett pp. 382-3). Altogether, and especially given the orthographic idiosyncrasies, the comparison appears convincing. If the identification be sustained this impression would appear exceptional amongst progress states from the ‘English Landscape’ project.
The inscription on the label ‘Framed by Savage’s’ probably refers to Savage’s Fine Art of Northampton. The last retail gallery closed in 1995, but the business was continued privately (at least up to 2010) by Michael Savage. The 1950s were probably the firm’s heyday, when they ran a fine framing and restoration business, together with a successful art gallery and dealership.
The Alan Reynolds in question is possibly the artist of that name (1926-2014). He painted Sutherland-esque landscapes and Nicholson-esque abstracts, hailed from Suffolk, and has work represented in most major collections of modern British Art. It would be interesting to discover to whom he gave the print as a present.