Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill
I admitted in my original article on David Lucas’s progress proofs for Constable’s ‘A Summerland’ that my attempt to record all of the impressions for this composition was doomed to amendment. I hardly suspected that it would require amending quite so frequently. Here is yet another proof; the third to appear this year. I haven’t yet managed to finish writing up the previous two! I have updated the original account to include this in the sequence.
This impression appeared at Hall’s auctioneers, Shrewsbury on 18 September 2019, lot 42.
As bought, it was framed in a slim black moulding with gilt detail, sealed within in a rigid card support and mat.
There are various labels and inscriptions on the backboard, including, on the original backing paper, the label of Leggatt Brothers, 62 Cheapside and 30 St James Street, London inscribed in ink ‘A Summerland/ after J Constable RA by D Lucas/ Engravers Proof’.
Above is a page from the catalogue of the sale of English prints at Sotheby’s 14 January 1971, lot 23 ‘A Summerland, by D Lucas (W.15; S.100), mezzotint, engraver’s proof before all letters, foxed, framed. (150 by 228 mm)’.
The backboard is also inscribed three times ‘124’, ?presumably a collection number. The inside of the wooded backboard is inscribed in pencil ‘57891’, possibly a Leggatt’s stock number.
The whole presentation is possibly as supplied by Leggatt’s. A number sticker; ‘35’ is affixed to the glass lower left; possibly also a collection number.
The paper support is in clean, flat condition unmarked except for two dark smuts along the top edge, a 5 mm ring mark in the centre of the sky and a faint dark smudge in the bright cloud to the right. Otherwise this is a scintillating impression, showing extraordinary clarity and crispness of detail. Superbly inked and showing no sign whatsoever of abrasion or scuffing.
This impression is an example of the final state before lettering and publication. The Hon Andrew Shirley’s definitive 1930 catalogue of the ‘Mezzotints of David Lucas after John Constable’, where ‘A Summerland’ is no.10, defines several distinct states e-h, all identical in terms of the image, except for variations in the finish of the edges.
The image itself first achieves its final form in an impression at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (P1384R), which in my complete collation is numbered d (vii).
Shirley does not seem to have been aware of that example, so the first examples that he cites as his state (e) are from Boston Museum of Fine Art and the British Museum. The latter can be identified as BM 1846,0130.15.
It is worth some consideration whether the variations to the edge of the image are as much to do with variations in individual impressions – since each print is struck individually by hand – caused, for example by the wiping of the plate margins which must perforce be as spotless as possible.
Nonetheless I have attempted to insert this particular example into Shirley’s sequence. It appears identical with an impression at the Fitzwilliam Museum, P141.1954, which again does not seem to have been known to Shirley, but which is closest, albeit not quite identical to Shirley’s state g, identified as that at the Metropolitan Museum, New York 33.25.9.
Here and in the Fitzwilliam impression the bottom edge is completely tidy. Both the Fitzwilliam and Metropolitan Museum impressions are equally finely detailed 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 highlight (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.
Let me know of any others, and I will add them to the list!