Saturday, 9 June 2012

John Constable - Somerset House Terrace from Waterloo Bridge

I've been looking at views of the Thames by different artists this week and came across one which was attributed to John Constable but which just looked wrong to me.  I first found it on wikipaintings - and then noticed that they'd sourced it from one of those "we can paint you any painting you want" sites.

Finally, it dawned on me why it was wrong - the image had been reversed!  Maybe you have to have walked along this terrace to know these things?

So here is a small Constable oil sketch of Somerset House Terrace from Waterloo Bridge - the proper way round!  The real thing forms part of the Paul Mellon Collection in the Yale Center for British Art At Yale University in downtown New Haven.

Somerset House Terrace from Waterloo Bridge (c 1819) by John Constable (1776-1837)
Oil on panel, 6 1/8 x 7 3/8 inches (15.6 x 18.7 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

What's also interesting about this painting is:
  • it's definitely a sketch/study - given the size and the quality of the finish.  Constable simply did not paint like this for his studio paintings but he did when painting studies for studio paintings.  It would be interesting to know whether he did anything with it.
  • the sketch dates from before the Embankment was built along the edge of the Thames.  In those days Somerset House was on the banks of the Thames and didn't have a couple of roads and pavements and a wall between the terrace and the river.

The other names for this painting are:
  • Somerset House Terrace and the Thames: a View from the North end of Waterloo Bridge with St. Paul's and Blackfriar's Bridge
  • Somerset House, A View from Waterloo Bridge looking towards St. Paul's and the City

Whatever it's called it suggests that a good place to paint the Thames and the City of London is the north end of Waterloo Bridge.

The end of the terrace at Somerset House is not such a good spot for painting - you can see how much trees now interfere with the view in my post Sunday Papers at Somerset House on my Travels with a Sketchbook blog


Charley Parker said...

Just got back from seeing this show of Constable's oil sketches at the Princeton University Art Museum over here in New Jersey (which I loved beyond my expectations - absolutely wonderful!).

It included an oil sketch and two drawings (here and here) of the bridge from similar perspectives.

Interestingly, I noticed this beautiful oil sketch of East Bergholt Church was reproduced in the book of the exhibition similarly flopped left to right.


Katherine Tyrrell said...

Wow! Wonderful - thank you so much for these links. Every time I've seen sketches and drawings by Constable I've been very much impressed - it's an aspect of his work which hasn't IMO received enough attention.

I've seen the oil sketches when they did the big Constable six footers exhibition at Tate Britain - which is when I fell in love with his tiny sketchbooks and small oil studies. I do wish they'd get them out more!

Charley Parker said...

"Sketches" in this case included this full-scale study for The Hay Wain.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I guess so. His painting styles for study and finished painting are quite distinctive,


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