Previously unknown drawings by one of Britain’s most important artists, John Constable, have been discovered hidden among a jumble of letters and poems collected in a family scrapbook made over the course of the late 18th and 19th centuries.
The album is being sold with an estimate of £24,000-£28,000 and will be the highlight of Sotheby’s online auction of Old Master and British works on paper sale from 24 November - 4 December.
Sotheby’s said it was “an extraordinary re-emergence” of drawings that had "lain hidden for the best part of 200 years in an album compiled by the Mason family of Colchester,” said Mark Griffith-Jones, a specialist in British watercolours and drawings. “It is full of all sorts of weird and wonderful objects and images and these four drawings.”
The works include a watercolour drawing of a rural landscape signed J Constable and dated 5 April 1794, which was when he was 17, making it one of his earliest known works. It would be another five years before he started his training as an artist at the Royal Academy Schools.
“It probably is a copy after a print and it is pretty naive,” said Griffith-Jones. “He was very young. From an academic point of view it is interesting to find something of this date. Constable, quite famously, was a late developer.”
There is also a drawing of a ramshackle thatched cottage that has been established as the original drawing for an etching Constable made in 1797, which is his only surviving etching from that period. An edition of it is in the collection of the V&A in London.
The two other drawings are portraits. “In some ways they are the most exciting,” said Griffith-Jones, because they are drawings connected to Constable oil paintings. One is of Jane Anne Mason, who was the subject of an oil painting Constable produced around 1808 and which is now in the Government Art Collection, hanging for many years inside No 10 Downing Street.
“This is a particularly sensitive and really very beautiful pencil portrait study,” said Griffith-Jones. “It is a really stunning work.”
So, if you've saved so much money by not going on holiday this year, why not check out the online auction from today to 4 December?