Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill
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 P.141.1954 appears identical 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.
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.
TO BE CONTINUED