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Constable's First Two
Six-foot Landscapes

Charles S. Rhyne
Reed College

Note: This article was published in Studies in the History of Art, Vol.24. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1990. Pp.109-129 and color pl.2.

This article may be used freely for non-profit educational purposes. All other uses must have the written permission of the author and publisher. Reproduction of any of the images must also have the permission of the museum or other owner of the work of art.


X-ray examination of John Constable's full-size sketch for The White Horse (fig. 1) has revealed a previously unsuspected painting of Dedham Vale from the Coombs (fig. 2). Layered on this one remarkable canvas are the unfinished beginning of Constable's first six-foot landscape painting and, covering it, his earliest large, full-size oil sketch.(1) The fortuitous juxtaposition of these two images allows us to reconstruct for the first time the origin of Constable's famous "six-foot sketches,"(2) and to interpret with increased confidence their function within his art and their unique place in the history of oil sketching.

Physical History of the Object

There is no reference to the full-size sketch for The White Horse in any document during Constable's life.(3) This is especially surprising for this sketch, because the finished painting (fig. 3), now in the Frick Collection, was purchased by John Fisher immediately following its first public showing at the l8l9 Royal Academy exhibition. Fisher was Constable's closest friend and confidant, and his extensive correspondence with the artist is our most reliable source regarding Constable's artistic struggles and reflections on art.(4) The finished painting is discussed at length a number of times in their correspondence but never the sketch. Nor is the Washington sketch mentioned in the classic 1843/1845 biography by Charles Leslie,(5) who was intimately acquainted with Constable beginning in l8l9 and was his closest friend following Fisher's death. Constable preferred to retain his oil sketches in his studio,(6) and it is nearly certain that he would have retained all of his large, full-size sketches until his death in 183 . However, the White Horse sketch cannot be correlated confidently with any of the items listed in the catalogue of the 1838 Executor's sale.(7)

       In his 1855 Hand-Book for Young Painters, Leslie did claim that "Constable made a sketch of the full size of every large picture he painted ...," (8) but there are no extant full-size sketches for a number of Constable's large, exhibited landscape paintings. The first published evidence for the existence of the Washington painting is the catalogue of the 1872 Old Master exhibition at the Royal Academy, which lists: "118 - THE WHITE HORSE ... John Constable , R.A. Canvas - 49 in . by 70 1/2 in . Lent by John Pender, Esq."(9) In 1882, the painting was exhibited at E. Fox White's gallery, London, and the following year a full-page reproductive engraving, by O. Jahyer, was included as part of an article on Constable in The Magazine of Art (fig. 4).(10) This shows that all of the details visible in the painting today were present then. The history of the picture from this time until its entry into the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in 1942 can be reconstructed from documents at the Gallery.(11) In 1893, the picture was purchased from Wallis & Son (The French Gallery, London) by Peter A. B. Widener, and donated in his memory in 1942 by his son, Joseph E. Widener.(12) Since entering the National Gallery of Art, the White Horse sketch has been examined and treated by conservators on a number of occasions.(13)

1984 Technical Examination

At my request, the White Horse sketch was brought to the Painting Conservation Department In June 1984 for extensive study.(14) Initial examination confirmed what had been obvious to most scholars who have studied the painting on display in the galleries: first, it is a problem painting of considerable complexity; second, previous relining has flattened the impasto and compressed the paint layers to an unusual degree; and third, the heavy coat of discolored varnish makes it exceptionally difficult to see what the painting is like or to evaluate even what one can see.

        New X-radiographs taken of the entire painting reveal the existence of an unrelated view of Dedham Vale from the Coombs covering the entire canvas beneath the White Horse sketch.(15) Our reading of the Dedham Vale image is facilitated by its close dependence on the oil study of the same view at the Victoria and Albert Museum (fig. 5),(16) which may also be a relatively accurate guide to the color and chiaroscuro of the concealed Washington painting. In addition to the increase in size (from two to six feet in length), the most significant changes are the more horizontal format and the addition of a large tree mass at the right and of a battered tree trunk at the lower-left side. The dominant image in the new x-radiographs is the Dedham Vale scene, indicating that it was more fully developed with impasto or contained more lead white than the White Horse sketch on top, and that there is no thick or lead base ground between the two images. However, the areas undeveloped in the Victoria and Albert study and the extension to the right are also thinly painted in the unfinished beginning of the Washington painting. Dedham Vale itself with the Stour River and the low hills of East Bergholt and Brantham toward the left are well realized. Even the sailboat at the bend of the river and the windmill on the hill just above are probably identifiable. Stratford Bridge and its buildings at either end are fully detailed and correspond closely to the Victoria and Albert study (figs. 6 and 7). The tower of Dedham Church, which would surely have been indicated in the initial stages of the Dedham Vale painting, may be marked in the x-radiograph slightly to the right of its position in the study.

       The new x-radiographs also confirm that beneath the detail of Willy Lott's House now visible in the White Horse sketch is an earlier, different image of the building, which agrees much more closely with this detail in the finished exhibition picture (figs. 8, 9 and 10).(17) Most of the landscape of the White Horse sketch seems to have been thinly painted. The features that show in the x-radiograph are the buildings and boat shed, rowboat, barge with its horse and figures, cattle, and wooden postwork and vine at bottom-left. With the exception of these objects, only the impasto of the water is prominent in the x-radiographs. The sky and trees that are visible in the x-radiograph seem to come entirely from the Dedham Vale painting.

       Only a few spots of overpaint fluoresced under ultraviolet light, and nothing additional of importance was visible using infrared reflectography.

       Some observations can be made directly from the surface. Traction crackle indicates multiple layering of paint, and unrelated colors show through in places. Moating around some of the impasto provides evidence of extreme compression in relining. Alterations seemingly by the artist are visible around the horse and barge. Dark brown is visible in the foliage of the main tree and in the foreground to the right. The surface was also studied carefully with a binocular microscope. In addition to the twentieth century retouching, it seems likely that there has been extensive repainting, but one cannot really be sure of this. The extreme compression of the paint layers and the unusually thick, discolored varnish make it impossible to distinguish paint layers with certainty.

       Small cleaning tests were conducted. The paint surface, where tested in the sky, showed considerable wear. As the recent examination report states, "It is possible that the sky area has been badly abraded and heavily repainted." The one happy result of the cleaning test was the discovery that what appears to be the original sky, beneath the varnish, is a lovely, bright blue, comparable to that in the six-foot sketch for Stratford Mill the next year.

       Four paint samples were taken and analyzed by Barbara Miller, at the time a conservation scientist at the National Gallery of Art.(18) In her report, she noted that all four cross-sections had two layers of ground (on the bottom a white layer, composed of white lead and chalk, and on top a tan-colored layer, composed of white lead, whiting, Van Dyck brown, and iron oxides, with very small amounts of barium white and ultramarine), covered by a thin dark brown layer. This is similar to the only other paint sample of a closely related Constable painting with which I am familiar.(19) The most surprising discovery, difficult to understand, is that no ground was detected between the paint layers of the Dedham Vale beginning and the White Horse sketch. Constable did use a warm mushroom-colored ground to cover the top half of the nearly contemporary 1817 painting, Flatford Mill from Old Bridge (Tate Gallery), before repainting the trees and sky, but this is after all a finished exhibition picture.(20) As discussed below, it is surprising enough that Constable would begin a sketch on top of an unrelated image without first covering it with a ground, and nearly unthinkable that he would begin a finished exhibition picture in this way. This establishes that the White Horse sketch was begun consciously as a full-size oil sketch, in preparation for a finished painting on a separate canvas.

The Question of Authenticity

In considering the authorship of the National Gallery of Art painting, we should distinguish at least three layers of paint.

Dedham Vale from the Coombs

There is no reason to doubt that the earlier painting, visible only in the x-radiograph, is entirely in Constable's hand. It so closely agrees with the Victoria and Albert Museum study (fig. 5) that it must be based on that study, which remained with the artist's descendants until given to the museum by Isabel Constable in 1888. It would have been available for copying only to a select few for a brief period at the 1877 Christie's sale, at which it was bought in. The character of the brushwork and impasto in this lower layer appears quite distinctive and in character with that in x-radiographs of other large Constable's paintings.(21) The awkward diagonal tree trunk at the lower-left side matches the compositional function of the end of Flatford Bridge in Constable's 1817 exhibition picture, Flatford Mill from Old Bridge at the Tate Gallery (fig. 11), and was used in his later 1828 exhibition picture, Dedham Vale from the Coombs at the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh (fig. 12). One other feature not in the early Victoria and Albert study appears in both the x-radiograph of the Washington painting and the Edinburgh painting: a small cow seen in profile just below the building at the left of the bridge, suggesting that both paintings are based in part on a yet undiscovered sketch.

Full-Size Sketch for The White Horse

Because the existence of the Dedham Vale image was unsuspected until the recent x-radiography, and because it is completely covered by the otherwise unrelated White Horse image, judgments regarding authenticity in all previous publications pertain only to the White Horse sketch. Although the Washington picture was illustrated and described in the various catalogues of the Widener collection,(22) it was not mentioned in any publication on Constable until Helen Comstock's 1956 article surveying works by Constable in American collections.(23)

       The first publication to question the authenticity of the Washington sketch was the important catalogue of the Constable bicentenary exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1976. Neither the Washington sketch nor the finished version in the Frick Collection (because the Frick does not lend) was included in the exhibition, but under the entry for a small oil sketch for the picture, the authors wrote:               

What is usually supposed to be a full-scale study for 'The White Horse', a painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, does, however, have some curious features which suggest that the question should be looked at again. Among these is the lefthand building, which bears little relation to the one depicted in both the final painting and the earlier material. The position of the boathouse in the Washington picture isequally difficult to reconcile with the information conveyed by the barge seems curiously misunderstood.(24)

 The same year, the Washington sketch seems to have been rejected by Fleming-Williams: "'The Leaping Horse' . . . is the third large work for which there has survived a full-size oil 'sketch.' (25) Since all Constable scholars certainly accept the authenticity of the six-foot sketch for The Hay-Wain and View on the Stour near Dedham , both preceding The Leaping Horse , this statement would seem to reject the six-foot Washington sketch. In his 1979 catalogue of all Constable paintings, Robert Hoozee includes the Washington painting in his category "Dubious Works" and writes: "Considered the full-scale study for [The White Horse ], it is most probably an imitation."(26)

        In two recent monographs, the authenticity of the Washington sketch was accepted: in 1978 by John Walker, former director of the National Gallery of Art, without comment,(27) and in 1983 by Michael Rosenthal:

. . . the authenticity of . . . [the Washington sketch] has been doubted, although one needs to know who, other than Constable, would have painted it. It may be a rough sketch, both to try out the composition on the large scale, and to provide a model for reference during painting.(28)

Graham Reynolds' 1984 catalogue raisonné of Constable's drawings and painting for the later half of his career (1817-1837) includes definitive entries for all known large exhibition pictures and full-size sketches. This appeared just late enough for Reynolds to include a note on this article at the end of his introduction (p. xvi) but not in time to incorporate new information in the relevant entires. In his entry for the Washington sketch, Reynolds reaffirms his long-held view that the Washington picture is a fully authentic sketch by Constable.(29)

       In considering the authenticity of the White Horse imagery in the Washington sketch, we should distinguish the initial White Horse sketch from later reworking and retouching. As with the Dedham Vale painting beneath, there is no reason to question the authenticity of the initial White Horse sketch. If a later artist had worked over Constable's Dedham Vale painting for sale, he would surely have finished what appears to have been an impressive, characteristic Constable beginning, rather than have begun an entirely new imitation. More important, the boldly executed portions of the White Horse sketch are similar in handling to corresponding portions of fully accepted full-size sketches from the following years. In particular, the convincing reflections and complex effect of the water achieved with bold economy of handling, the rich variety of greens and loose handling in the large areas of foliage (visible by strong light even under the discolored varnish), the bold sculpting of the horse, and the solid architecture of the barge and post work in front are consistent with comparable features in Constable's other large, full-size sketches.

Later Reworking and Retouching

On top of Constable's initial White Horse sketch, there is unquestionable later reworking and retouching, though how extensive this is and, more important, how much is by Constable himself are questions allowing for considerable difference in judgment. We may set aside the question of retouching by later restorers. As one can see to some extent by good light and as is confirmed by examination with binocular microscope, there is extensive cracking of the paint layers, and many of these cracks have been inpainted or painted over at some time in the past, possibly on more than one occasion. Unquestionably, there is restoration; but what of early-mid nineteenth century repainting?

       The most important question concerns actual reworking of the image. Already in 1843, Leslie, reported that after Constable's death some of his sketches were finished by other artists for sale,(30) and it is reasonable to ask if this might be the case with the Washington sketch. Given the private and experimental nature of the six-foot sketches, and especially the fact that the Washington sketch is his first, we must be prepared for unexpected variations from his later practice. It is reasonable to be suspicious of features that do not appear in the finished version - the dovecote to the right of Willy Lott's House, the fence behind the cows, even the horns on the cows, though there is no evidence that any of these are later additions.(31) The position of the thatched boat shed in the Washington sketch does not agree with the finished version or with any other know representation of this shed, but there is no trace of a boat shed in its usual position in the x-radiograph, which should record the impasto Constable could be expected to have used for such a structure.

       The most problematic and interesting detail is Willy Lott's house. In its present state, this building covers an earlier image that agrees much more closely with that detail in the finished Frick version (figs. 8, 9, and 10). Indeed, all of Constable's representations of Willy Lott's House from this angle, whether in sketchbook drawings, oil sketches, or paintings, have the configuration seen in the Frick painting, with the one exception of the present image in the Washington sketch. This image does not agree with any other Constable image with which I am familiar and is not an accurate view of the house from any angle. While Constable did begin to alter details of topography in his paintings at about this time, the purpose of these changes is usually clear.(32) I am not aware of any changes comparable to the alteration of Willy Lott's House in the Washington sketch. The very late, reflective images do include some radical topographical and architectural differences, but they are clearly interpretive whereas the alteration here has no point and seems likely to be a mistake by a slightly later hand. On the basis of the evidence to date, it is difficult to believe that this alteration in the Washington sketch can be by Constable.

       However, Reynolds notes that there is a visible pentimento in the finished version (fig. 3), which in his view shows that Constable first transferred the reworked image of the house from the Washington sketch to the Frick painting before revising it to agree with the original design.(33) It does not seem to me that the pentimento visible on the surface of the Frick painting agrees closely enough with the gable configuration in the Washington sketch to establish this reading. However, if the presence of the Washington gable configuration could be confirmed in the Frick painting by x-radiography or infra-red reflectography, especially if the presence of the eccentric half-timbering in the Washington sketch could also be established under the Frick painting, this would all but prove that the comparable detail now visible in the Washington sketch is by Constable himself, a rejected step in the development of the final image rather than an addition by a later hand.

       A few questions regarding the Washington canvas remain unanswered, but the technical evidence presented above is detailed and its interpretation for the most part clear. Combined with the extensive information already available for Constable's art and life, this permits us to reconstruct for the first time the origin of Constable's famous full-size sketches, illuminating not only the distinctive character of a major artist, but also a unique chapter in the history of the oil sketch.

Large Oil Sketches in the History of Art

As far as I have been able to discover, there is no precedent for the practice of painting a separate, large, full-size oil sketch previous to undertaking a finished painting of the same subject.(34) The only large images on one surface regularly done in preparation for finished paintings of the same size on another surface are cartoons, but these were normally finished drawings on paper, and they served quite different technical functions.(35) A few preceding artists, most notably the sixteenth century Venetians and in the next century Rubens, did paint large oil sketches, in a few cases even larger than six feet. The status of these is often unclear, but most seem to be competition sketches or modelli. In those few cases where a large oil sketch and finished painting of the same subject exist, the sketches are significantly smaller than the finished paintings.(36) As far as I know, the only possible, partial exceptions are two preliminary versions by Van Dyck.(37)

       We might suppose that the work of Constable's contemporaries and immediate followers would be more similar. One thinks immediately of Turner, but his color beginnings are almost certainly unfinished paintings, not full-size sketches for other canvases.(38) Delacroix did paint a number of large sketches, one slightly longer than six feet, but these are copies after even larger paintings by Rubens.(39) A large sketch by Manet has been proposed as a preparatory sketch, but it seems more likely to be a study after.(40) With later nineteenth century artists, where sketchy oils exit the same size as more finished paintings of the same subject, they seem to be versions rather than preparatory sketches.

       The traditional type most similar to Constable's large, full-size sketches is the ébauche , the preliminary laying-in of a painting. In cases where these have been left unfinished we do have large sketches the same size as the intended painting; however, these are underpaintings for finished paintings rather than separate sketches. They share a number of physical similarities with the least developed of Constable's full-size sketches, but they serve a different function.(41) A few unfinished canvases by Théodore Rousseau provide the closest parallel to Constable's full-size sketches. There is no evidence that Rousseau consciously began full-size oil sketches as a preliminary stage for finished paintings on separate canvases, but he so loved the lack of finish that he seems deliberately to have left some of his ébauches in that state, sometimes copying them onto canvases of the same size which he then finished.(42)

Constable's Large, Full-Size Sketches

Although his large, full-size sketches cannot be dated from external evidence,(43) it seems reasonable to suppose that Constable adopted the practice of painting one large oil sketch each year (with several lapses and irregularities) as a stage in the preparation of his major exhibition painting for the annual Royal Academy exhibition. Twelve of Constable's large, full-size sketches are known. Ten of these are the same size (or nearly so) as their corresponding exhibition pictures, one is larger,(44) and the twelfth, the late Chicago Stoke-by-Nayland , seems to have remained without a corresponding finished painting at Constable's death.(45)

       Constable's full-size sketches, so admired by later artists and critics, constitute a distinctive chapter in the history of oil sketching. Yet there uniqueness has never been adequately noted and little of substance has been written about them as a group. Two well-known six-foot sketches, the full-size sketches for The Hay Wain and The Leaping Horse, were on public display at the V&A by 1862, and, with the exception of occasional loans, have been so ever since. In publications on Constable, these two have been compared regularly with their finished versions, beginning in 1866 when the Redgraves first called attention to the special importance of these two sketches.(46) It was not until the twentieth century that Roger Fry briefly described the full-size sketches as a group, and Kenneth Clark first extolled them as Constable's supreme achievement."(47)

       Even today, discussion of the six-foot sketches is generally confined to individual comparisons with the corresponding finished paintings, sometimes with an accompanying generalization.(48) No previous publication includes an extended discussion or separate listing of the six-foot sketches as a group. There seem to be two reasons for this neglect. First, until the recent publication of Graham Reynolds' definitive catalogue raisonné, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable,(49) the number of large, full-size sketches properly attributed to Constable was debated even by leading Constable scholars. In the 1976 Tate Gallery bicentenary exhibition, seven of the twelve sketches were not included (one because it was not known). The authors of the catalogue question the White Horse sketch and suggest that A Boat Passing a Lock "might equally well be an unfinished replica."(50) In his 1979 complete catalogue of Constable's oil sketches and paintings, Robert Hoozee rejects the Stratford Mill sketch as a copy; considers the White Horse and Salisbury Cathedral sketches "most likely" and "almost certainly" imitations; accepts the Helmingham Dell, Waterloo Bridge, and Stoke-by-Nayland sketches with questions marks; and considers the Boat Passing a Lock a later copy by Constable.(51) In his 1981 definitive catalogue of The Tate Gallery Constable Collection, Leslie Parris asks "if Constable could be thought in any way responsible for" the Salisbury Cathedral sketch, parts of which he finds convincing; and suggests that the Stoke-by-Nayland sketch "may have been left unfinished by Constable and later worked on by another hand."(52) In 1983, when the Stratford Mill sketch came on the market, it was widely doubted and at auction brought a clearly noncompetitive price for the last of these unique sketches then in private hands.(53) One of the major accomplishment of Reynolds' authoritative catalogue raisonné is the convincing reaffirmation of these authentic sketches, essential to an understanding of Constable's complex art.

      The second, perhaps even more challenging. reason for the neglect of Constable's large, full-size sketches as a group was put clearly by Basil Taylor, in 1973:

The large unfinished versions of The Hay Wain . . . , The Leaping Horse . . . and other exhibition pieces which we may also by habit call sketches are equally problematic. Were they rejected solutions abandoned early, full-scale modelli, alternative versions kept in progress with the others, in which alternative possibilities could be tested? Did they all have the same use or does each case have to be considered separately, as some of the documentary evidence suggests? Regrettably, Constable's letters do not help us to answer these questions. The only certain conclusions are that we cannot establish the function of these paintings with any certainty, and that together with the other works they constitute an oeuvre without precedent in the history of painting.(54)

With the series of twelve, known, full-size sketches established, it is now possible for us to consider these unique works as a group and to begin to answer Taylor's supposedly unanswerable questions.

       The traditional interpretation of these full-size sketches was clearly stated by Kenneth Clark: ". . . the great problem: to preserve the vigour and integrity of his studies on a six foot canvas. To achieve this, Constable evolved the idea of a full size sketch."(55) Whatever Constable's purpose in later full-size sketches, the Washington canvas suggests that his main purpose in painting his first full-size sketch was not to preserve the vigor of the small sketches but to solve the compositional problems posed when he attempted to base his first six foot exhibition piece on a two foot oil sketch and other small drawings and sketches done from nature, which did not automatically provide an integrated composition on so large a scale.

       The lack of references to Constable's full-size sketches, even in his extensive correspondence with intimate friends, must surely indicate their private nature and therefore their importance in attempting to understand the psychology of Constable's working procedure.

       The Washington sketch is listed below in chronological order with the other large, full-size sketches that it initiated and with the matching exhibition paintings, giving the longest measurement of each. This list includes all known oil sketches by Constable longer than four feet (122 cm.). As the list makes clear, only six of these qualify for the frequently used description, "six-foot sketch," but it seems desirable to include in the complete list the five other large oil sketches which are the same, or very nearly the same, size as their corresponding finished pictures, painted as Constable's principal exhibition picture of the year. These five include three sketches somewhat over four feet long, one approximately five-and-a-half feet, and an extraordinary and unique eight foot sketch, which should certainly be included even though it is 9 1/2 inches longer than the exhibition picture based on it. There are six extant oil sketches at least three feet long, which I have not included because they are all less than four feet and none correlate with a finished painting the same size. As with many aspects of Constable's art, what appears initially to be a reasonably uniform series of objects turns out to vary in a disconcerting number of cases, making clean groupings difficult. Nevertheless, we may adopt the term "large, full-size oil sketches" as an accurate designation for the series.

       The dates are those of the first exhibition of the finished paintings, at the Royal Academy summer exhibitions, in one instance at the British Institution. In many cases the finished paintings were reworked, sometimes extensively, immediately following the exhibition, sometimes in later years. The sketches, presumably, were begun the previous autumn or winter, sometimes continued the following spring, and may have been retouched in later years. In the unique case of The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, it seems likely that the full-size sketch was developed over a number of years.(56)


The White Horse
sketch National Gallery of Art, Washington (183 cm)
painting The Frick Collection, New York (187.8 cm)


Stratford Mill
sketch Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (184 cm)
painting private collection, England (182.9 cm)


The Hay Wain
sketch Victoria and Albert Museum, London (188 cm)
painting National Gallery, London (185.5 cm)


View on the Stour near Dedham
sketch Royal Holloway College, Egham (185.3 cm)
painting Henry E. Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino (188 cm)


No large sketch


The Lock
sketch Philadelphia Museum of Art (141.7 cm)
painting Walter Morrison Collection, Sudeley Castle (142.2 cm)


The Leaping Horse
sketch Victoria and Albert Museum, London (188 cm)
painting Royal Academy of Arts, London (187.3 cm)


A Boat Passing a Lock
sketch National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (129.9 cm)
painting Royal Academy of Arts, London (127 cm)


No large sketch


Hadleigh Castle
sketch Tate Gallery, London (167.4 cm)
painting Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (164.5 cm)


Helmingham Dell
sketch Louvre, Paris (129 cm)
painting Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (130.8 cm)


Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows
sketch Guildhall Art Gallery, London (188 cm)
painting Private Collection, England (189.9 cm)


The Opening of Waterloo Bridge
sketch National Trust, Anglesey Abbey (243.8 cm)
painting Tate Gallery, London (219.7 cm)


No large oil sketch


sketch Art Institute of Chicago (168.5 cm)
No matching exhibition picture

Dedham Vale from the Coombs

Except for the important increase in size, the painting of Dedham Vale from the Coombs does not involve any redirection in Constable's art. In the first place, since it was not followed by a similar exhibition painting, it is likely that what we see in the x-radiographs is not a six-foot sketch but the rejected beginning of a painting Constable had expected to finish on the same canvas. The degree to which Stratford Bridge and the buildings on either side are detailed supports this reading, especially as the unfinished painting of Dedham Lock and Mill at the Tate Gallery,(57) most likely dating from l8l9, shows Constable's willingness at this time to develop buildings and other details in the middle ground, while the foreground and tree mass on the right remain loosely blocked in.

       Likewise, Constable chose to represent the view which, from slightly varying viewpoints, he had drawn and sketched more often than any other(58) and for which a relatively detailed oil study was available. In deciding to alter the proportions to a more horizontal format,(59) he seems to have planned to combine the V&A study with three of the drawings (figs. 13-15) and another oil sketch of Dedham Vale from the Coombs, a sketch of the same size in a private collection (fig. 16),(60) which together provide the form of the tree mass at the right and perhaps the idea for the diagonal battered tree trunk at the lower left.

       In addition, the compositional type has surprising similarities with his successful Royal Academy exhibit of 1817, Flatford Mill from Old Bridge (fig. 11). Although the concepts are quite different, in both works Constable placed his largest tree mass toward the right, a recession back along the river toward the left, and diagonal woodwork across the bottom-left corner.

       Tracing the origin of Constable's large exhibition pictures is compromised by the difficulty in dating precisely the unfinished Washington painting. There are two enticing references to a large landscape painting in letters Constable wrote from East Bergholt to Maria in Putney Heath in 1815, the first on 19 October: "I have put rather a larger landscape on hand than ever I did before and this it is my wish to secure in a great measure before I leave this place, as I find many aids;"(61) the other on 3 November: "I am now so much engaged about a large picture that I intend to do all I can to get it in some sort of forwardness before I take it to London."(62) As Michael Rosenthal has pointed out, this might have been Constable's first six-foot landscape,(63) but there is no reason to associate these references with the Washington painting. Two of the paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year are unidentified and are reasonable candidates for the "large picture." More convincingly, the unfinished Washington Dedham Vale seems to have been taken from the Victoria and Albert Museum study rather than painted on the spot, and this argues for its having been begun in Constable's London studio and therefore most likely no earlier than 1817.

       Reasoning back from the White Horse sketch on top, presumably begun in the fall or winter 1818, it seems unlikely that this could have been painted over a wet painting from the immediately preceding months. Especially because the x-radiographs and paint samples indicate some fairly thick pigment in the unfinished Dedham Vale and because the pigment analysis indicates that it may not be covered by a ground, it would probably have taken several months for the paint to have dried adequately. Here also, late 1817 to early 1818 seems likely, though for the unfinished Washington Dedham Vale, we must hold open the possibility that it could have either immediately preceded or followed the 1817 Tate Flatford Mill.

       If, as the evidence suggests, Constable attempted his first six-foot landscape entirely in his London studio, divorced for the first time in his career from easy reference to the scene depicted, he may have felt it desirable to proceed with special caution, basically enlarging a favorite motif. At the center of Constable's concept of a natural painting was the moral integrity of painting based on nature rather than on other pictures or personal eccentricity. To achieve this, he had, until this time, based his exhibition pictures on study directly from the scene, painting the exhibition picture itself either wholly or partly en plein-air or in the studio based on compositional sketches and detailed studies from nature. In the Washington Dedham Vale painting, although unable to refer to the scene itself, he seems to have proceeded as much as possible in the same way, hoping to achieve the same natural painting on a larger scale.

       Perhaps because the scene was not available for direct reference, he seems to have run into problems. Neither of the two oil sketches (figs. 5 and 14) provided a solution for the foreground, and the large tree trunk introduced to compensate seems almost part of a separate image. When in 1828 he painted his mature vision of this scene (fig. 10), he incorporated the diagonal trunk convincingly, establishing a high foreground opening onto a majestic space.(64) No doubt it is a coincidence, but just as with The White Horse Constable won belated election as A.R.A., so with the Edinburgh Dedham Vale from the Coombs , based partly on the rejected beginning on the same canvas, he was finally elected R.A.

Full-Size Sketch for The White Horse

Constable made at this point a decision tha is difficult entirely to understand, the decision to reject the unfinished Dedham Vale . In most respects the painting appears a promising beginning based on a favorite motif, which could have been returned to later after additional sketches on the spot. In part, Constable may have been concerned with the expense of his first six-foot canvas. More likely, the attempt to realize the Dedham Vale from the Coombs idea on a six-foot canvas may have convinced him that he needed more heroic subjects for such large canvases, and that the impression he hoped to make in the next few years required a closer view of canal life, of locks, barges, horses, and men set as if on the stage of the river. If so, the difference between the unfinished Dedham Vale and the White Horse sketch provides new insight into the origin of Constable's six-foot masterpieces.

       The decision to prepare a six-foot painting for the l8l9 Royal Academy exhibition was one of the decisive moments in Constable's career. Discouraged by receiving fewer votes for a vacancy as associate in 1818 than he had the previous year, and spurred by the desire to provide for his young family (the first child, John Charles, was born 4 December 1817), Constable resolved to make a major bid for election. He decided to submit a larger landscape than any he had previously exhibited,(65) in which he would demonstrate the full capacity of his art on a scale equal to the expectations for a Royal Academician. With The White Horse he succeeded and he was elected A.R.A. 1 November l8l9.(66)

       His finished painting, The White Horse, does not strike us as particularly monumental or heroic. In fact, within the development of Constable's art, it represents a precious moment at which the ambition of so large a canvas is still thoroughly constrained by the artist's deep humility in front of nature. But by returning to the banks of the Stour and adopting a low vantage point, he began to develop the latent monumentality of his earlier Flatford paintings, which led in six years to The Leaping Horse.

       Full consideration of the character of the Washington sketch must await a much-needed cleaning, which could be as instructive in its way as the x-radiograph, and could transform a dingy study piece into a major display picture. The image of Willy Lott's house and the boat shed originated in a small drawing in the 1814 sketchbook .(67) However, if cleaning were undertaken, two oil sketches (figs. 17 and 18),(68) both of which appear to be sketches from nature probably of 1817, would be especially helpful to study first-hand in attempting to visualize how the color, handling, and effect of the White Horse sketch might have looked during Constable's life.

       The juxtaposition of the two images on the Washington canvas suggests a rather straight forward explanation for the unprecedented idea of doing a full-size sketch. Having failed with the composition of his first six-foot landscape, Constable seems to have decided to try out his next composition full size in oil before beginning his next exhibition piece. One might suppose that he originally intended to paint his White Horse exhibition picture over the rejected Dedham Vale painting, deciding somewhere in process to take up a fresh six-foot canvas for the finished painting. But the relatively thin, superbly sensitive painting of the finished Frick painting, with ground visible in areas, would not have been possible had it been painted directly over the unfinished Dedham Vale . He probably rejected scraping off the impasto and covered it with a ground, no doubt feeling that the natural appearance he hoped to achieve in this exhibition picture required a fresh start. The surprising lack of an intermediate ground surely establishes that the crucial decision to paint a full-size sketch was taken before the White Horse sketch was begun, a conscious decision more prophetic than Constable could have realized.

       Once he had used the procedure and been rewarded with the immediate success of The White Horse , it is understandable that he repeated the procedure for most subsequent large exhibition pictures. It may also be that he found that having the full-size sketch available in his studio after sending The White Horse to its new owner, John Fisher, relieved somewhat his anxiety to have the painting back for various purposes, and that this played an important role in his decision to paint future six-foot sketches, some of which he developed rather fully. Writing in 1866, the Redgraves reported: "Constable himself knew the value of such studies, for he rarely parted with them. He used to say of his studies and pictures that he had no objection to part with the corn, but not with the field that grew it." Although this may refer to Constable's sketches in general, it is reported in the middle of a paragraph otherwise devoted only to the full-size sketches.(69)

       As a group, Constable's large, full-size sketches constitute one of the great achievements in the history of oil sketching. The mature examples have long been famous for their extraordinary vigor and daring. But they had their origin in a decision to proceed with unusual caution, at a moment when Constable's ambition for a major exhibition piece coincided with the need for a full preliminary study in kind, a moment marvelously preserved in the two images on the Washington canvas.


This article was written in July 1984 at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, following a year as Samuel H. Kress Senior Fellow. Those of us who have been privileged to work in this scholarly paradise recognize a profound debt to those who have understood so well what a community of scholars could be.

Discussions among Constable scholars regarding the authenticity of the Washington White Horse sketch have encouraged me to look carefully at some of the problematic areas of the painting. I should like to acknowledge the fruitful discussions I have had concerning this sketch with Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, who have shared with me some of the reasons for the doubts expressed in their 1976 Tate exhibition catalogue. As always, I am in debt to Graham Reynolds, who has consistently championed this sketch.

Following completion of this article, Graham Reynolds' splendid catalogue of all works from the last half of Constable's career (1817-1837) was published. Reynolds' entries are referred to by his initials and catalogue number. Comparable abbreviated references are used for the entries in three other catalogues. Thus:

GR Graham Reynolds. The Later Paintings and Drawing of John Constable , 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1984.

H. Robert Hoozee. L'opera completa di Constable . Milano, 1979.

P. Leslie Parris. The Tate Gallery Constable Collection . London, 1981.

R. Graham Reynolds. Catalogue of the Constable Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum . London, 1960, 2d ed. 1973.


1. This is also a rare example of Constable's painting an unrelated image on top of one of his earlier landscapes. I know of only two other examples. In the oil sketch The Stour Valley with Stratford St. Mary Church from the Fields South of East Bergholt (private collection, Great Britain; Leslie Parris, Ian Fleming Williams, and Conal Shields, Constable: Paintings, Watercolours & Drawings, exh. cat., Tate Gallery [London, 1976], no. 91), the horizontal landscape of c. 1809 is painted on top of a vertical image of gables and trees, at right angles to it, traces of which are visible in the sky. In the oil sketch The Thames Valley from Hampstead Heath (Yale Center for British Art; GR 25.35), the Hampstead landscape of c.1825 is unrelated to the image of Salisbury Cathedral from the Close, much of which can be seen through the present paint surface in the sky (the covered image is nearly identical, including the end of the bishop's palace at the left, to another oil sketch, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, dated August 1820 [R.196; GR 20.48 ] ). Another Salisbury oil sketch, the superb Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, GR 20.50), is a horizontal painting on top of a vertical one of the same cathedral painted at right-angles to it, but, unlike the examples just given, these two images are of the same subject. The x-radiograph of this painting is reproduced in Graham Reynolds, John Constable, Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds, Masterpieces in the National Gallery of Canada No. 10 (Ottawa, 1977), fig. 10.

2. The term "six-foot sketch" properly refers only to six extant canvases by Constable. But there are six additional sketches, one larger, the others smaller, which I consider part of the series of large, full-size sketches for exhibition pictures, and which I have listed in the text. In addition, there are a few smaller full-size sketches not considered here.

3. There are three possible references in Constable's correspondence to his large, full-size sketches. These would refer to the full-size sketches for A View on the Stour near Dedham, at the Royal Holloway College, Egham (GR 21.2), to Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, at the Guildhall Art Gallery, London (GR 31.2), and to Stoke-by-Nayland, at the Art Institute of Chicago (GR 36.19).

View on the Stour near Dedham may be referred to in a letter from Constable to Fisher, quoted by Leslie. The letter clearly refers to Constable's main exhibition picture that year, A View on the Stour near Dedham, now at the Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino (GR 22.1): "I have sent my picture to the Academy. . . . The composition is almost totally changed from what you saw. I have taken the sail, and added another barge in the middle of the picture, with a principal figure , altered the group of trees, and made the bridge entire" (Charles R. Leslie, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, composed chiefly of His Letters, ed. with intro. and notes by Jonathan Mayne, London, 1951; reprinted Ithaca, New York, 1980; 89-90). According to Leslie, the letter was written 13 April 1822, but Beckett suggests that the portion quoted was written 1 April and enclosed with the 13 April letter (John Constable's Correspondence, ed. with intro. and notes by R. B. Beckett, 6 vols, Ipswich, England, 1962-68, 6: 89]). The changes Constable described agree with those now visible between the full-size sketch and the finished version, and indicate either that Fisher had seen the full-size sketch or that Constable first transferred the sketch to the second canvas before making the changes. This full-size sketch was certainly seen by at least one person outside the family during Constable's life, since it was used by Lucas for the mezzotint of the subject when the finished version was unavailable in France (see Andrew Shirley, The Published Mezzotints by David Lucas after John Constable, R.A. , Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930, no.19, pl.XIX; see also Correspondence 4: 333).

Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows may be the "sketch of Salisbury" referred to by Constable in a letter to Lucas written toward the end of October 1830 (Correspondence 4: 336).

Stoke-by-Nayland seems almost certainly to be described, rather fully, in a letter from Constable to William Purton, which Leslie dates 6 February 1836 (Leslie-Mayne, 250), but which Beckett has shown must have been written in February or July 1835 (Correspondence 5: 144).

4. Their full extant correspondence is published in Correspondence , 6: 1968, and in John Constable: Further Documents and Correspondence , edited with notes by Leslie Parris, Conal Shields, and Ian Fleming-Williams (Ipswich and London, 1975, 116-121.

5. Leslie 1951. In his extensive biography, Leslie did not mention any of Constable's large, full-size sketches. This is especially surprising because Leslie housed the two most famous six-foot sketches, those for The Hay Wain and The Leaping Horse, following the 1838 executor's sale, at which these two works were bought in for the Constable family. See Reynolds 1973 (R. 209); also see Charles Leslie, Life and Letters of John Constable, R.A., ed. with notes by Robert C. Leslie (London, 1896), xiii.

6. Richard and Samuel Redgrave, A Century of British Painters (London, 1946, 1981), 370; lst ed. 1866.

7. A Catalogue of the Valuable Finished Works, Studies and Sketches, of John Constable, Esq. R.A. deceased , auction cat., Foster and Sons (London, 15-16 May 1838). This was the first public display, albeit for a short time, of Constable's large, full-size sketches. The prices nearly establish that eleven of the large, full-size sketches were shown then, and it seems likely that two or three others were also shown.

8. London, 1855, 267.

9. Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters , together with the Works of Deceased Masters of the British School , exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts (London, 1872), 14. The picture was also mentioned in The Times (7 January 1872) and The Art-Journal (1872), n.s., 11: 45-46. On 5 January, following a visit to this exhibition, James Smetham wrote a three page celebration of the painting, which contains no information but does establish that he mistakenly thought he was looking at the finished version (Letters of James Smetham , ed. Sarah Smetham and William Davies, London, 1902, 289-291).

10. Harry V. Barnett, "The 'White Horse:' A Note on Constable," The Magazine of Art (June 1883), n.s., part 32, 334-335 and full page repr. p. 190. Barnett incorrectly identified the picture as the one purchased by Fisher and exhibited at "Lisle," but the full-page engraving leaves no doubt that the work "exhibited last year at Mr. White's Galleries, in King Street, St. James's, and still in his possession," is the Washington full-size sketch.

11. These include two letters in the curatorial files and a typed notation in a unique copy of a Widener catalogue, described in note 12 below, in the library of the National Gallery of Art. The first letter is a previously unpublished, handwritten letter on stationery headed "Sefton Place, Warmingcamp., Arundel.", and signed "GSConstable" (George Sefton Constable). George Sefton, an amateur artist, was the son of George Constable of Arundel, who himself was an amateur artist and, though no relation, John Constable's close friend the last four years of his life. The reliability of George Constable of Arundel as an informant on the work of John Constable is open to serious question (see Correspondence , 5: 1967, pp.38-39), but there is no specific reason to doubt any of the information in the letter here quoted. The letter is addressed to the London gallery owner E.F.White Esq. Presumably, White passed the letter on with the picture when sold.

Nov. 7, 1883. My dear Sir, Allow me to congratulate you on the possession of Constable's picture of "The White Horse" I saw in your Gallery the other day. I consider it one of his finest pictures. No one can doubt that my Father knew as much as anyone of Constable's pictures and his method of painting - My Father was very intimately acquainted with Constable for several years - visited him in Charlotte Street Spent many hours in his studio when Constable was painting there - in addition to that - Constable visited us many times at Arundel and painted in my Fathers studio. I have in my possession some small pictures painted by Constable when there among them the last sketch from nature Constable painted "The Old Water Mill at Arundel" He painted it on the spot - and gave it to my Father. I recollect your picture in the 1872 Exhibition and frequently with my Father stood before it in admiration - My Father remarking to me that he thought it one of the finest pictures Constable had ever painted. I was so impressed with the picture and my Father's remarks that I have never forgotten it and can now remember the exact place it occupied in the Exhibition. Very truly yours

The second letter, also handwritten, is on stationery headed "The French Gallery, Wallis & Son, 120 Pall Mall, London.," dated 1 January 1909, and addressed to "P. A. B. Widener Esq, Philadelphia, U.S.A.," does not add any information not obtainable more reliably from other sources.

12. The typed notation referred to at the beginning of note 11 provides the 1893 date of purchase from Wallis & Son. This appears at the end of the entry for The White Horse sketch on page 72 of a typed manuscript, bound together with what may be printed proof pages, for the earliest catalogue of the Widener paintings. The title page of this unique volume reads: Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Private Collection of P. A. B. Widener, Ashbourne - Near Philadelphia. Part I. Modern Paintings. MDCCCLXXXV-MCM. When published in 1900, the White Horse entry appears as page 122 of "Part II, Early English and Ancient Paintings.," but all other information on the title page is the same. The date stamped on the front cover of this unique volume is "FEB. lst. 1908," and some of the typed information clearly postdates 1900. The special value of this volume is the information not included in any published Widener catalogue. This includes the date and source of purchase for each picture and a symbol probably indicating price (for the White Horse sketch the symbol is "IYMIR"). In addition, there are entries and lists of works that I have not seen mentioned elsewhere. For Constable, there are two such lists of paintings, all presumably disposed of before the collection came to the National Gallery of Art. The first lists ten sketches with titles, measurements, and various collector's and dealer's numbers and symbols. At the bottom, "Sedelmeyer, 1906" presumably identifies the dealer and date of purchase by Widener. A second sheet lists six sketches, with titles and measurements but no symbols or numbers. The sketches were presumably purchased from "Fischhof, 1906."

13. The conservation files at the National Gallery of Art record the following:


Restore corners, clean and varnish


X-rayed and developed negative


Tested to determine procedure for cleaning. Found pigment had been applied mainly in a varnish medium.


Removed old lining and relined with aqueous medium.


Restored numerous worn areas in sky at right. Restored numerous separation cracks in foliage at left center, in houses, water and trees. Filled old right-angle tear in center foreground and retouched same. Refinished surface.

The 1980 examination by Kay Silberfeld is worth quoting in full.

Examination by binocular microscope suggests that much of the painting has been damaged and repainted.
: A large area over a cloud in the center of the sky, to the right of the large tree, appears to have been recently cleaned and then toned over. Was this the area tested in 1944? The grey-purple tone over most of the sky appears to be a later glaze applied over generally abraded (or dissolved?) original paint. Was it this glaze that was removed in the test and led to the conclusion about the medium? or the original paint itself?

Water: Some of the white highlights are over crackle and abrasion in the original paint layer and over what appears to be residues of a darkened varnish. Much of the green is also over crackle and abrasion.
Foliage: Many of the leaves (light orange-brown, light greens) are over cracks and damage in the original paint layer. White Horse: Some strokes of the white impasto and other details on the harness are over crackle and damage.
Men immediately to Left of Horse: Pink face and hands and green jacket are over crackle and damage.
Foliage around Boat: Light green is later paint.
Cows: Very dark brown and light red paint appear to be original, but the reddish brown and orange tones are later, over crackle and damage.

14. Examination was carried out in the painting conservation department of the National Gallery of Art by Sarah Fisher and Charlotte Hale, who also prepared the eight-page examination report.

15. Complete x-radiographs had been taken in 1944, but the Dedham Vale image does not seem to have been observed and, at least in their present state, the x-radiographs are so dark that only a few scattered traces of the Dedham Vale image can be seen even after one knows where to look.

16. The Victoria and Albert study was cleaned in 1964, exposing the previously invisible path running across the meadow toward the right, and revealing the subtle tonal gradations and sensitivity of the paint surface. Two color plates, one of the entire study, the other of the central section, are reproduced in Hoozee 1979, pls. I and II. The study is dated c. 1800-1805 by Reynolds and c. 1805 by Parris, Fleming-Williams, and Shields (Tate 1976, no. 55), by Hoozee (Hoozee, 1979, H. 31), and by Rosenthal (Michael Rosenthal, Constable, The Painter and His Landscape [London, 1983], fig.228), but I have never been able to see why it should be dated so early. We lack comparative oils for the years immediately following the c.1801-1804 Higham Village and Dedham Vale from Above Higham (Tate 1976, no. 43), a comparable panorama similar in size ( 18 1/8 x 24 in. versus 19 5/8 x 23 3/4 in. for the Victoria and Albert study); but can the V&A study much precede View at Epsom and Malvern Hall from the Lake, both of 1809 at the Tate (P. 4 and P. 5)? The gentle tonality of the sky seems no earlier than 1808, and practically identical to that in Dedham Vale from the Road to East Bergholt , c. 1811-1813, at the Victoria and Albert Museum (R. 109). The handling of the landscape seems close in parts to the more fully developed 1814 Dedham Vale from the Fields South of East Bergholt at Boston (Tate 1976, no. 133). It would be extremely helpful to know the correct date of this study, but the extensive retouching makes secure dating difficult. C. 1808-09 seems a reasonable provisional dating.

17. This was first noted by Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams when examining the 1944 x-radiographs on a visit to the National Gallery of Art in May 1983 (personal correspondence). See their discussion of this issue in their review of Reynolds' Later Paintings and Drawings , in the Burlington Magazine , 127 (March 1985), note 19.2 on p. 167, figs. 46-49.

18. At my request, four paint samples were taken: (1) in the white triangle at the lower-left corner of the gable end of the house, (2) in the extreme lower right of the barge, (3) where the diagonal tree trunk in the lower-left overlaps the meadow, and (4) in the low hills in the background toward the left. "Two sets of photomicrographs were made: 35 mm color slides and 4 x 5 inch color transparencies. Also, sketches of the cross-sections were made because the dark upper layers of glaze and varnish were not apparent on the photomicrographs" ("Analytical Report; Constable 605/S2, BM /sl;" 9 August 1984). An even more detailed analysis and diagrams of these four paint samples was carried out in December 1984 and a six-page report prepared by Eugena Ordonez, painting conservator / analytical technician at the National Gallery of Art. This report confirms the surprising evidence that "no consistent layer was noted in the four cross-sections which might be attributable to a separatory layer between the sketches." In addition, the detailed description of paint layers in the four samples will make possible important comparisons with related paintings by Constable, should these become available. This six page report is now the single most detailed paint analysis for any Constable painting. ("Analytical Report #2; 605 Constable / AR / S2;" 8 January 1985).

19. Anna Southall described the ground of Flatford Mill from Old Bridge at the Tate as "a white ground. Analysis shows that the ground contains both lead white and black chalk. Over this there is a thin wash of raw umber;" see Completing the Picture: Materials and Techniques of Twenty-Six Paintings at the Tate Gallery (London, 1982), 34. This is a large exhibition painting, nearly contemporary with The White Horse. The only other paint sample from a Constable painting of which I am aware was taken from the small, 1810 oil sketch, East Bergholt Common; View to the Rectory from Golding Constable's House, in the Johnson Collection, no. 856, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In February - March 1984, Jean F. Rosston, then Mellon Fellow in conservation at the museum, examined this sketch for me, and in her report and a letter wrote that "four ground layers are noted: uppermost, is a white ground; second , is a gray ground; third, is a pink ground; and fourth, at the bottom in contact with the fabric is a pink ground," with a "warm-golden-brown imprimatura" of oil paint over the uppermost white ground layer."

20. Completing 1982, 37.

21. The largest number of x-radiographs of Constable paintings have been made in the technology department of the Courtauld Institute of Art, and are stored there and in the conservation department of the Tate Gallery. The staffs of these two institutions, especially Caroline Villers at the Courtauld and Anna Southall at the Tate, assisted me greatly in studying these records.

The handling of impasto in Constable's large oil sketches, which is dramatized by x-radiography, is highly distinctive and often breathtakingly expressive. Because x-radiography emphasizes the contrast between impasto and thinly painted areas, and because Constable increasingly allowed the brown ground to show through and used white and yellow for his impasto, there develops in some of the very late sketches a striking correspondence between the sketch itself and an x-radiograph of it. The sketch of about 1834, On the Stour, A Farmhouse Near the Water's Edge, at the Phillips Collection, Washington (GR 34.76), is a brilliant example. See also the discussion of Constable's late painting, A Wooded Bank, with an Open Book and Distant View of Water , in my "Discoveries in the Exhibition," in John Constable, R. A. , exh. cat., Salander-O'Reilly Galleries (New York, 1988), 21-23 and note 75.

22. Four catalogues of the paintings collection were published of the P. A. B. Widener Collection in 1900 and 1915, and of the Joseph Widener Collection in 1923 and 1931. In addition, a small one-volume, abbreviated handbook, also privately printed, was published in 1931. All illustrate and describe the White Horse sketch, with information nearly identical in all.

23. "Constable in America," Connoisseur, 137 (May 1956), 287.

24. Tate 1976, in entry for no. 165.

25. Ian Fleming-Williams, Constable, Landscape Watercolours & Drawings (London, 1976, 86).

26. Hoozee 1979 (H.618): "Opere dubbie." "Considerato lo studio full scale [ . . . ] `e molto probabilmente un'imitazione."

27. John Walker, John Constable (New York, 1978), fig. 32 and caption. Walker was also the first to point out that the Washington picture is the same type of full-size sketch as the famous examples at the Victoria and Albert Museum (letter of 13 March 1944, in the curatorial files, from Walker to Franklin M. Biebel, the Frick Collection).

28. Rosenthal 1983, 117. Rosenthal's book includes a number of superb, full-page color details of Constable's six-foot landscapes, both finished paintings and large, full-size sketches.

29. Reynolds, 1984 (GR 19.2).

30. Charles R. Leslie, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, Esq. R.A., Composed Chiefly of His Letters (London, 1843; 2d ed. 1845), 122. Leslie 1951, 279.

31. It is sometimes said that Constable never represented Suffolk cattle with horns, but his 1800 watercolor drawing, The Valley of the Stour, Looking towards East Bergholt , at the Victoria and Albert Museum (Reynolds, 1960 [R. 16C]), in which Constable was undoubtedly attempting to be accurate, clearly shows cows with horns at the edge of the Stour just two miles upstream from the site of The White Horse.

32. Notable alterations are the omission of the housing from the waterwheel on Dedham Mill, 1820 (GR 20.10), compressing the length of Willy Lott's house, 1821 (GR 21.1), removing the crossbar from Flatford Lock, 1824 (GR 24.1), inserting Dedham Church, 1825 (GR 25.1), enlarging it, 1828 (GR 28.1), and aggrandizing the size and scale of Willy Lott's house, 1835 (GR 35.1).

33. GR.19.2, p. 30, GR.19.1, p. 28.

34. For assistance in attempting to trace similar sketches by other artists, I thank David Rosand, John Steer, Martha Wolff, Jack Martin, Julius Held, Bob Herbert, and Adrienne Atkinson.

35. For a study of fifteenth- to nineteenth-century cartoons, see Roseline Bacou, Cartons d'artistes au XVe au XIXe siecle, exh. cat. Musée national du Louvre, Cabinet des dessins (Paris, 1974).

36. In his definitive study , Julius Held catalogues four hundred fifty-six oil sketches by Rubens, but only six are larger than 4 feet, the longest 4 feet 9 1/2 inches (The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, A Critical Catalogue, 2 vols. [ Princeton, 1980] ). See the "Introduction" with its important discussion of the function and historical context of oil sketches.

37. On occasion Van Dyck painted two large versions of the same composition. In two cases, the earlier, sketchier version is nearly the same size as the later, more finished version. The status of these is uncertain. If they were intended as preliminary oil sketches rather than as less detailed, earlier versions, they would be remarkably close predecessors for Constable's large, full-size sketches, indeed the only such predecessors of which I am aware. The two Van Dyck "sketches" in question both represent St. Sebastian Bound for Martyrdom , but are variant compositions. The first, at the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, is both large (height 189 cm., 74 1/2 in.) and just four inches shorter than the more finished painting of the same composition at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. The other, at the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh (height 226 cm., 89 in. ), is just thirteen inches shorter than the more finished painting of the same composition, also at the Alte Pinakothek (see John Rupert Martin, "Van Dyck's Early Paintings of St. Sebastian ," in Art the Ape of Nature ; Studies in Honor of H. W. Janson , ed. Moshe Barasch and Lucy Friedman [New York, 1981], pp.393-400; also John Rupert Martin and Gail Feigenbaum, Van Dyck as Religious Artist , exh. cat. The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1979, no.30 ).

Two other preliminary versions by Van Dyck, though significantly shorter than the corresponding later paintings, also seem relatively close in function to Constable's large, full-size sketches. These are the Betrayal of Christ in Minneapolis (height 142 cm., 56 in.) and a third, the earliest variant composition of St. Sebastian Bound for Martyrdom, at the Louvre (height 144 cm., 56 3/4 in.). For these two potential "sketches," see Wolfgang Stechow, "Anthony Van Dyck's 'Betrayal of Christ' ", Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, XLIX (1960), 4-17; Martin and Feigenbaum, Van Dyck , 1979, no.24; and Martin, "Van Dyck's Early," 1981. As with Constable's full-size sketch for The White Horse , these four Van Dycks were done for major paintings near the beginning of the artist's career, when unusual caution and application might be expected.

38. These are among Turner's largest canvases, a number well over six feet long. See the "unexhibited works" catalogued in Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, 2 vols. (New Haven and London, 2d ed. 1984).

39. Barbara Ehrlich White catalogues thirty-two extant copies by Delacroix and their Rubens prototypes. One of these is 6 feet 5 inches long (no.14, Miracles of St. Benedict, at the Royal Museum, Brussels), after a Rubens 7 feet 9 l/2 inches. Otherwise, only one other copy is over three feet. See "Delacroix's Painted Copies after Rubens," The Art Bulletin, XLIX (March 1967), no.1, 37-51.

40. Michael Wilson has proposed Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, at the Courtauld Institute Galleries, as a preparatory sketch for the famous 1863 exhibition picture (Michael Wilson, Manet at Work , exh. cat. National Gallery, London, 1983 , 22-25 ). Although less than half the length of the finished painting (length 116 cm. , 45 5/8 in., as against 264.5 cm., 104 1/8 in.), this would be a large oil sketch with approximately the same function as Constable's large, full-size paintings, and as such would be a unique object within Manet's oeuvre. However, Juliet Wilson Bareau has shown that a composite x-radiograph of the Louvre painting reveals major alterations, thereby establishing that the Courtauld sketch must follow rather than precede ("Manet: Peinture-Gravure," lecture at Manet symposium, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 22 Oct. 1983).

41. See Albert Boime, The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1971), 37-41, etc., and John Minor Wisdom, French Nineteenth Century Oil Sketches: David to Degas , exh. cat. Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1978), 2-4. The general lack of attention to the essential role of size in oil sketches is reflected in the fact that nowhere in Boime's landmark publication can one find the size of any of the works reproduced.

42. See, for example, Rousseau's View of the Chain of Mont-Blanc during a Storm (Copenhagen: Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek), The Destruction of Trees in the Ile de Croissy (The Hague: Mesdag Museum) and Descent of the Cattle (Amiens).

43. For possible exceptions, see footnote 3.

44. With the exception of the eccentric case of The Opening of Waterloo Bridge , where the sketch is 24.1 cm. (9 1/2 in.) larger than the painting, the largest difference in size between sketch and painting is 4.8 cm. (1 7/8 in.).

45. No previous publication even mentions the possibility that the Chicago Stoke-by-Nayland might be a sketch. In his catalogue of Constable's complete paintings and oil sketches, Robert Hoozee describes the Chicago canvas as "a late unfinished picture, probably destined to be exhibited at the Royal Academy" (Hoozee 1979 [H. 564]). Parris writes that "this canvas may have been left unfinished by Constable and later worked on by another hand" (Parris, 1981, on p. 64). Reynolds describes it as "the late and not fully completed Stoke-by-Nayland" (Graham Reynolds, Constable's England, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1983, 23). Malcolm Cormack even writes that "There is only one large-scale finished work of his last years [the Chicago Stoke-by-Nayland ], in which he has allowed this freedom of handling full expression" (Malcolm Cormack, Constable, Cambridge, 1986, 225). Of course every sketch that Constable painted was to some extent an end in itself, and the ways in which Constable's late work does and does not anticipate twentieth century expressionism is a complex question of great fascination, but the misinterpretation of a private sketch as a finished painting leads us away from an understanding of Constable's unique historical position. Comparison of the Chicago picture with Constable's other large sketches and with his exhibited landscapes of the thirties seems to me evidence enough that the Chicago picture was never intended to be an exhibitable painting. Additional reasons for considering it a sketch are included in a long article, which I have recently prepared for publication.

46. Richard and Samuel Redgrave, A Century of Painters of the English School , 2 vols., London, 1866, II, 394-96.

47. Kenneth Clark, Landscape Painting , New York, 1950, 77; republished as Landscape into Art (London, 1976), 150.

48. The standard account is chapter 4, "The Large Canal Scenes," in Graham Reynolds' Constable, the Natural Painter (London, 1965). See also the relevant portions of Rosenthal 1983, especially the rich comparison of the full-size sketch and finished version of A View on the Stour near Dedham , 138-41.

49. Reynolds, 1984.

50. Tate 1976, under nos. 165 and 262.

51. Hoozee 1979, under no. 269, and nos. 618, 662, 474, 460, 564, 473.

52. Parris 1981, on p. 143 and p. 64.

53. Reynolds 1984 (GR 20.2). Some additional information can be supplied. In 1965 I studied this picture, then on loan from Mrs. Alice Schoenfeld Seligson, at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco. According to a letter of 30 June 1961, in the museum files, from Walter Heil, director, to Mrs. Seligson, the painting had recently been cleaned by Henry Rusk, conservator at the museum. At that time I agreed verbally with reservations that had been expressed by Kenneth Clark in a letter to Walter Heil. Previous to the 1983 sale at Sotheby's, I was able to examine the painting again, this time off the wall and under excellent daylight. It seemed to me then, as it still does, a brilliant authentic sketch, possibly with later reworking, but this also in Constable's hand. The recent cleaning by John Brealey was slight and happily has not changed its appearance appreciably. Even the later signature may be in Constable's hand. If so, this would suggest that Constable may have touched up the Stratford Mill sketch sometime following his election as R.A. The variety of opinions among Constable scholars concerning a six-foot oil sketch in excellent condition, from the center of Constable's career, dramatizes the originality of Constable's art, especially the experimental character of these magnificent large, full-size oil sketches. No painting is ever beyond dispute, but the evidence here seems to me pervasive and convincing.

54. Basil Taylor, Constable: Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours (London, 1973), 38.

55. Kenneth Clark, "Hogarth, Constable and Turner," in Masterpieces of English Painting , exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago, 1946, 14.

56. See Reynolds, 1984 (GR 32.2).

57. Reynolds 1984, (GR 20.13) and Parris 1981 (P. 17). Parris wrote: "It is difficult to say whether No.17 precedes or follows the l8l9 picture, and no less difficult to say why it is unfinished. No.17 may be Constable's first attempt at a full-size version of the composition, perhaps abandoned when he felt that the closely observed middle-distance threatened the overall unity of the picture and that the necessary adjustments could not be made on the same canvas."

Two other Tate Gallery publications include additional technical descriptions of this picture: Paint and Painting , (London 1982), 94-96; also Completing , 1982, 34-38. This latter contains one of the few published descriptions of Constable's technical working method, a lucid five pages by Anna Southall.

58. Six drawings and four oil sketches of this scene previous to the Washington sketch are known to me. Eight of these (including figs. 5 and 13-16) are listed by Parris in his entry for one of them (Parris, 1981 [P.8]). In addition, two previously unpublished drawings are at Exeter and Liverpool (The River Stour with Stratford Bridge from the Foot of the Coombs , c.1801-1802, 15.6 x 23.0 [6 1/8 x 9 1/8), Royal Albert Museum, Exeter, 99/1978, nos. 2 recto; and Dedham Vale with Stratford Bridge from the Coombs , c. 1812-1816, 9.5 x 12.8 (3 3/4 x 5 1/8), Hornby Library, Liverpool, B62-18 verso). Holmes reproduced a drawing of this view that would be, as he proposed, Constable's earliest representation of the scene, but which I attribute to George Frost (Charles Holmes, Constable, Gainsborough and Lucas: Brief Notes on Some Early Drawings by John Constable [privately printed, 1921], no. 13, repr.) The relative formlessness of the entire sheet and the outlined depiction of buildings and river are uncharacteristic of Constable. The lettering "Dedham" at the bottom left seems to be by the same hand as that on no.1 in Holmes's book, but does not agree with any authentic Constable inscription with which I am familiar.

In addition to these views of Dedham Vale from the Coombs, there are several of the same scene from what would here be behind the artist's back, at the top of the Coombs along the ridge near Langham Church. There are also a few of this view from what here would be to the artist's right, on Gun Hill or along Gun Hill Road. With so many images of Dedham Vale, it is helpful in descriptive titles to distinguish the various motifs, by identifying the viewpoint; for instance Dedham Vale from the Coombs , Dedham Vale from Langham, Dedham Vale from the Lane to Flatford , etc. Even with this degree of specificity, objects with the same title are not normally done from exactly the same spot. In Constable's views of East Bergholt Common, Flatford Mill, etc., each image seems to be a new discovery, done from a slightly different viewpoint and encompassing a slightly different field of vision. However, Constable's eleven images of Dedham Vale from the Coombs here mentioned are unusually similar in composition, probably because of the limiting format of enclosing trees. Even so, there is in each a sense of fresh eyes brought to a familiar scene.

59. In many works by Constable, there are fold marks on the canvas or additional strips of canvas stitched to the sides, top, or bottom, indicating that changes in format were made after the painting had been begun. There are no such indications on the Washington canvas.

60. Parris 1981, under P.8, fig.2, note 5. This picture has always been accepted as an authentic sketch by Constable. However, the relative formlessness of the handling has bothered me whenever I have studied it first-hand. These doubts were put to rest by Leslie Parris, who kindly informed me of his recent observation that the number "138F" (partly covered by a label), stenciled on the back of the stretcher, is the sale stencil for lots 183-196 at Christie's, 17 February 1877, and that the only one of these lots that has an appropriate title not otherwise accounted for is this painting. Since these lots were sold by Lionel Constable as sketches by his father, the painting is almost certainly authentic. Parris also pointed out that the subsequent lot in the sale was the other unfinished sketch of this view, the Victoria and Albert Museum oil study (fig. ll in this article).

61. Correspondence 1964, 2: 156.

62. Correspondence 1964, 2: 159.

63. Rosenthal 1983, 93-95.

64. The Edinburgh painting and the unfinished Washington painting are vertical and horizontal versions of the same scene. A parallel but more complicated situation can be seen in the various versions of The Lock. In that case, the full-size oil sketch (Philadelphia Museum of Art; GR 24.2) was itself changed from a horizontal to a vertical format when Constable cut off a portion of the canvas at the right and added a strip at the top. Based on this, a finished vertical painting was produced (Walter Morrison Collection, Sudeley Castle; GR 24.l), comparable to the Edinburgh Dedham Vale. But with The Lock, Constable also produced, two years later, a large horizontal exhibition picture (Royal Academy of Arts; GR 26.15).

For a thorough description of the buildings and topographical features in the Edinburgh painting, see Attfield Brooks' detailed account in Alastair Smart and Attfield Brooks, Constable and His Country [London, 1976], 119-124, and 139-140). In this Edinburgh painting, the gypsy in the foreground has sometimes been considered an artificial addition, indicating Constable's relaxed concern for topographical accuracy in his later years; but it is likely that this figure was fully appropriate, just as the distant topographical details in this painting are astonishingly specific. Gypsies were frequently recorded in East Anglia during Constable's life, and at the spot on the hillside where a gypsy is shown in the Edinburgh painting there is a small depression running down to the left as shown. On the 25 inch Ordnance Survey Map of 1903, a well is indicated at this spot, a natural camping site for an occasional gypsy.

65. In describing The White Horse, Rosenthal wrote: "At 51 3/4 x 74 1/8 inches it may have been larger than anything [Constable] had previously tried." Surprisingly, Constable had painted two larger pictures than this, but not landscapes; one, the portrait of The Barker Children, 204.5 x 130.8 cm. (80 1/2 x 51 1/2 in.), Christie's, 24 April 1987 (48); the other the little-known 1807 Copy of Sir Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Mrs. Anna Tollemache, Countess of Dysart, as Miranda from the Tempest , oil on canvas. 235.5 x 145 cm. (92 3/4 x 57 in.) sight. Collection of the Hon. Michael Tollemache. The latter is Constable's largest finished painting, larger than his largest finished landscape, The Opening of Waterloo Bridge (134.6 x 219.7 cm., 53 x 86 1/2 in. GR 32.l). Constable's sketch for this landscape was even larger, more than full size, and is therefore Constable's largest known canvas ( 153.6 x 243.8 cm., 60 1/2 x 96 in., GR 32.2).

66. For the favorable reception of the finished Frick painting, see GR 19.l.

67. R. 132, p. 66.

68. Reynolds 1984 (GR 19.3 and 19.4).

69. Redgrave 1981, 370.