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John Constable, 1776–1837

Dedham Lock

between 1819 and 1820
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas laid on board
13 1/4 x 19 5/8 inches (33.7 x 49.8 cm), Frame: 19 1/2 × 26 1/2 inches (49.5 × 67.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
boat | building | cathedral | dark | landscape | river | sky | study (visual work) | trees
Associated Places:
Dedham | England | Essex | Stour | United Kingdom
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

This is one of the relatively small studio sketches which Constable used as stepping stones toward far more ambitious landscape paintings, of which Stratford Mill in the next bay, a full-scale sketch for the “finished” painting (National Gallery, London) demonstrates the penultimate stage of the artist’s long, careful and deliberate process of compositional refinement. In this case, there exist a number of versions of this preliminary treatment of Dedham Lock none of which ever made it to the next stage. Constable chose instead to broaden his composition to encompass the neighboring mill (which belonged to his family business), and to embark upon a more complex view of Dedham from a vantage point thirty paces or so further distant from the lock. A full-scale, unfinished sketch for the resulting Dedham Lock and Mill, ca. 1816–17, is in Tate (London), while the finished or “exhibition” version is in a private collection.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005
Painted in a busy variety of different kinds of brushstroke, often with areas of rich impasto, Constable's small oil sketches played a key part in his working process. He made many of them outdoors on the spot, at the favorite sites in the Stour Valley that were the mainstay of his subject matter throughout his career; his studies of clouds were also done in the open air (see no. 55). Such quick, private visual notes would serve him in the studio as points of departure, aides-mémoires, and raw material for the larger, more finished pictures that he would show at the London exhibitions. In the course of synthesizing and adapting, he would make further oil sketches to strike the right balance of compositional elements and lights and darks, sometimes completing his preparations with a sketch on the same scale-as large as six feet across-as the projected exhibition piece (no. 53 is an example). The present work is one of the smaller-scale studio sketches, a step toward a larger, more finished work that appears never to have been realized.
It shows the view looking south from Dedham Lock toward Dedham itself, with the skyline dominated by the tower of the village church. The vessel with a sail to the left is a barge waiting inside the lock for the water to rise to the level of the river beyond. The view is similar in form and content to another painted by Constable repeatedly between 1817 and 1820, looking in more or less the same direction but from the other end of the lock, i. e. from a point some distance back and to the left. The composition also centers on the church tower rising above the lock; the main difference is that in the position occupied by the row of trees on the left is a building instead, Dedham Mill. There are four relatively large versions of this other Dedham view, including one that is unfinished; two of the finished versions, both datable to 1820, show a barge in the lower left corner like the one here.1 The present view, without the mill, is seen in only three works, all of which are sketches; the others, both smaller, are at the Tate Gallery and also at the Yale Center for British Art.2 The three may represent an idea for a full-scale Dedham view that was superseded by the one with the mill, which would suggest a date of about 1817 or earlier. In style, however, they seem to belong with other sketches datable to about 1819-20; the present work, for instance, relates to the small compositional sketch for Stratford Mill (see no. 53). Constable may have painted them for the same purpose as the latter, as a preparatory work for an exhibition picture on his largest scale, a never-realized "six-footer."
As the scene of boyhood memories, Dedham was full of sentimental associations for Constable, and the mill featured in the other, similar view was part of his own family's business. But in his paintings of this and other places along the Stour, he sought to suggest ideas of more than personal importance. He painted the locks that made the river navigable in large part for their symbolic connotations: they represented the man-made at its best, a positive and productive intervention in nature. Dedham Church was also a favorite motif. At 130 feet in height, it was actually one of the valley's most prominent landmarks. But its position at the heart of so many of Constable's compositions is more a matter of theology than topography. He was devoutly religious and saw the beauty and well-being of his home countryside as inseparable from the idea of a presiding, beneficent God.
As Graham Reynolds has noted, the first known owner of the sketch was Albert Hecht, the early collector of works by the French Impressionists. The Impressionist painters probably would have seen it at Hecht's and no doubt appreciated its remarkably free, spontaneous-looking touch.

[1] Parris and Fleming-Williams, 186-91 (nos. 93-96); Graham reynolds 1984, 47-49 (nos. 20.10-20.13).
[2] Graham Reynolds 1984, 64-65 )nos. 20.90 and 20.91).

Malcolm Warner

Malcolm Warner, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 136, no. 54, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Constable's England (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983-04-13 - 1983-09-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

John Constable - A Selection of Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (National Gallery of Art, 1969-04-30 - 1969-11-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 58-59, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Constable, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK & New York, NY, 1986, pp. 106-9, pl. 104, NJ18 C74 C75 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sir Howard Hodgkin, Howard Hodgkin : paintings, 1992-2007, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 78-83, figs. 30 (detail) and 31, NJ18 .H647 A12 2007 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Charles John Holmes, Constable and his influence on landscape painting, Archibald Constable and Company, Limited, Westminster, UK, 1902, p. 248, Folio A N80 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert Hoozee, L'opera completa di Constable, 98, Rizzoli, Milano, Italy, 1979, p. 112, no. 259, NJ18 C74 A12 +H66 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Constable : a selection of paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, , National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1969, pp. 34-35, no. 30, NJ18 C74 U5 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden : Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 136, no. 54, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850 : collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon : Exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, , 1,2, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 79 (v.1), no. 105 (v.1), pl. 45 (v.2), ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Leslie Parris, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, Book Review , Burlington Magazine, vol. 127, March 1985, p. 165, N1 B87 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Leslie Parris, The Tate Gallery Constable collection : a catalogue, , Tate Britain, London, UK, 1981, pp. 101-02, fig. 3, NJ18 C74 P374 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v.3, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Graham Reynolds, Constable's England, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 1983, p. 70-1, no. 20, NJ18 C74 R496 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Graham Reynolds, The later paintings and drawings of John Constable, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1984, p. 65 (v. 1), no. 20.92, pl. 211, NJ18 C74 R485 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon : [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965, , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, p.13 (v.1), no. 44, ND466 Y35 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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