Constable portrait of beloved wife among rediscovered works

Drawings with ‘personal significance’ to the artist have not been seen in public for decades

Three works by the British landscape artist John Constable that have been in private collections for years are to be auctioned next month. These include a pencil drawing believed to be of his wife, Maria Bicknell, whom he married against her family’s wishes. She died from tuberculosis in 1828 at the age of 41, plunging the artist into grief and leaving him to care for their seven children.

According to Chiswick Auctions’ art specialist, Suzanne Zack, and two independent experts who have verified the three works as Constables, the drawing of Bicknell is believed to have been made towards the end of her life. The artist’s sketches and paintings of her may have helped him endure the long period the couple spent apart.

Constable wore only black after Bicknell’s death and, according to his friend and biographer Charles Leslie, was “prey to melancholy and anxious thoughts”. When the artist died nine years later, at the age of 60, he was buried alongside Bicknell in a Hampstead churchyard. The drawing is expected to sell for up to £12,000.

John Constable’s A Portrait of a Gentleman

An oil painting believed to be of Constable’s uncle, Abram, that has been a private collection of the family of art historian Ronald Brymer Beckett for 70 years is also to be auctioned. Beckett loaned A Portrait of a Gentleman to a Constable exhibition in Manchester in 1956 but the painting has not been seen in public since. As well as collecting drawings and paintings, Beckett published eight volumes of Constable’s correspondence before his death in 1970. The portrait is expected to sell for £30,000 to £50,000.

The portraits had “personal significance to Constable, being his uncle and his wife, Maria,” said Zack. “They give us a real feeling of the close relationship between the artist and sitter, and add to the appreciation of Constable’s life and work beyond the great landscapes that he is best known for.”

The third work is a pencil drawing, thought to be of a scene near Framlingham Castle in Suffolk, the county in which Constable lived and painted many of his famous landscapes, including The Hay Wain.

The drawing – which has a long, descriptive title, A River Landscape: a Group of Tall Trees on the Left, a Bend of the River with Willows on the Far Bank on the Right, in the Background a Hill with a Castle – is expected to sell for up to £,8000.

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