Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill
This article extends the consideration of two proofs of the print by David Lucas and John Constable of the artist’s composition of ‘A Summerland’ sold at Chiswick auctions on 27 June 2019, together with a further proof from the series of ‘English Landscape Scenery’ of ‘Willy Lott’s Cottage’.
To start with the first new ‘Summerland’ proof. At the sale on 27 June 2019 the catalogue identified this as state 10e as given in Andrew Shirley’s superb book Mezzotints by David Lucas after John Constable, published in 1930. This turns out to be wrong. It is, rather, the same state, a little more lightly inked, as an impression at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, P139.1954. This I numbered (V) amongst the many variants of Shirley’s state d listed in the Sublimesites.co article ‘John Constable, David Lucas and ‘A Summerland’: Part #3 – The Progress Proofs [d]‘, which first appeared on 22 October 2018. I have now updated the original article to include reference to this new example.
The paper is robust and in fundamentally good condition. There is some faint mottling and spotting, but nothing at all obvious or distracting. The general brightness is perhaps somewhat diminished by surface dirt, but the original colour of the paper was oatmeal, and mellow-toned, even when new. There are patches on the verso where the original colour is well presented. The image itself is well-inked and richly toned. A crease in the paper extends vertically into the image from the top edge approx. 1/3 from the left.
The crease was present prior to printing, for it represents the plate line of an image on the verso. Lucas printed this proof onto the verso of a part sheet recycled from a (presumably discarded) impression of a mezzotint by Henry Dawe (1790-1848) of a painting by Michael William Sharpe (1777-1840) entitled ‘The Bee’s Wing’, published 1 June 1824.
The subject is an inebriated gentleman peering closely into a glass of wine. Quite what were the circumstances of Lucas using Dawes’s print in this way are unknown, but he appears to have quartered an impression and used other side of the top right corner to try an impression of ‘A Summerland’.
Dawe’s print is fine work in the mezzotint medium in which David Lucas was intending to make his reputation and would have been a fine example to study. Lucas’s principal interest, however, appears to have been in the paper. When one works through the series of ‘Summerland’ trial proofs it becomes apparent 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. 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. It is worth observing that another example, [c (i) – the occasion of these articles] was trialled on an impracticably soft paper and that of another, near contemporary proof of ‘Willy Lott’s House’ (see above, to be discussed later) was trialled on a laid paper.
This new impression compares most closely to two impressions at the Fitzwilliam Museum (P.139.1954 and P.140.1954). These are very close and quite difficult to separate, but the most obvious differences are that the highlights across the trees and hedgerow in the middle distance have been brightened, as has the white horse; the signature lower right is obscured, the cumulus clouds to the right have been smoothed and lightened and the top edge is indistinct in the latter.
Of the two, the new impression is closer, perhaps, to P.139.1954. It lacks the new highlights across the middle distance, and the brightened white horse. The sky indeed is perhaps less detailed, particularly in the principal crepuscular ray, and the dark cloud to the top right. In fact one might be inclined to suspect a slightly anterior position in the sequence, except for the fact that the new impression has the same indistinct top edge as P.140.1954.
It is possible that these relatively slight differences in detail between the new impression and P.139.1954 are insufficient to conclusively separate them out into different states. The apparent differences in the sky might be accounted for by variations in printing. In an entirely artisanal process such as this each impression is inked to a slightly different degree, there being so many variables, such as the dampness of the paper, the ambient temperature, the consistency of the ink, the pressure of the press. In any case it is clear that Lucas and Constable were here experimenting with different papers. P.139.1954 is printed on a stiff, heavy, off-white watercolour paper, the present example on a thick oatmeal wove, and P.140.1954 on a distinctly yellow, stiff watercolour paper. Of the three, my judgement would be that the colour is better in the first two, but the last takes the ink slightly more crisply, giving sharper, brighter lights.
TO BE CONTINUED