An oil painting by John Constable entitled A Sea Beach – Brighton which was the subject of a BBC Television programme is to be sold at Bonhams Old Master Paintings sale in New Bond Street on 9 July.
Constable and his family were frequent visitors to Brighton for the sake of his wife, Maria's, health. They stayed in the town for extended periods from 1824 until Maria's death from consumption in 1828. Although the painter disliked Brighton, describing is as 'nothing less than Piccadilly "by the seaside"', he was captivated by the changing moods of the sea and sky and these became the inspiration for countless sketches.
The exact date of this painting is unknown but its composition owes a clear debt to a small oil sketch now housed in the Detroit Institute of Fine Art which would almost certainly have been executed in the open air in Brighton. The much larger A Sea Beach – Brighton, however, was painted in the studio and may date from as late as 1835. It, in its turn, could have been a preparatory work for an even bigger painting commissioned by Constable's Paris dealer, John Arrowsmith, which was never produced.
For many years the picture was in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston where it was attributed uncertainly to Constable. It was bought under a de-accessioning scheme by a private collector in Detroit. More recently, it was the focus of a BBC television programme which set out to establish its authenticity.
The experts discovered A Sea Beach - Brighton had Constable's distinctive pink-stippled priming as a ground. They also found the painting had evidence of ink strokes marked at intervals, showing that it had been scaled up to reproduce the composition from a smaller work – an established working practice of Constable's. The sketch of the same scene in the Detroit Institute of Fine Art is exactly half the size of A Sea Beach – Brighton, strongly suggesting that it had been the model for the larger work.
For the specialists, however, the clinching factor was the "handwriting" – strokes so deft that they could have only come from the hand of Constable. The painting has now been definitively reinstated as the work of the artist.
Bonhams International Director of Old Master Paintings, David Dallas commented, "This is a wonderful example of Constable's ability to conjure up the power of the elements and, by contrast, the insignificance of man. In this atmospheric work, the people scurry for shelter or rush to secure their boats as the sea and wind lash Brighton beach."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com