Four Constable artworks have been acquired for the Ipswich collection through funding from the Friends of the Ipswich Museums, Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Art Fund and Ipswich Borough Council’s Felix Cobbold Bequest.
The new artworks include a landscape painted when Constable was aged just seventeen and is among his very earliest surviving works. As well as two portraits, one of which is a work in pencil of his brother, Abram, which is believed to relate to his 1806 oil painting already housed in the Ipswich collection.
John Constable is recognised as one of the most important British artists and the area where he was born, grew up, and painted is now world-famous as ‘Constable Country’. The fine art collection in Ipswich contains many works by him and other Suffolk artists from the sixteenth century to the present day.
The four new artworks were found in an album containing watercolours, drawings, poems and extensive texts, ranging from jokes and ditties to comments on contemporary events. Items date from the 1790s to 1862.
It is believed to have been compiled by the Mason family, who were related to the Constables through a marriage between the two families in 1792. They lived in Colchester and had strong ties with Golding and Ann Constable’s children, including John and Abram.
The album came up for sale at Sotheby’s Old Master and British Works on Paper sale in December 2020 at an estimate of £24-28,000 and was acquired for £24,000.
A special exhibition will be curated at Christchurch Mansion this year to mark the 200th anniversary of Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’ and the death of George Frost, who was an early mentor of John Constable’s. The research for this exhibition has been funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for studies into British Art and is a major investment in the Ipswich Constable collection. ‘Creating Constable’ will focus on Constable’s early Suffolk years and the social network that helped him develop as an artist.
Collections and Learning Curator Emma Roodhouse, who has been working on the ‘Creating Constable’ project for Ipswich Museums, said: “This album will provide an opportunity for further research into the family and will be a prominent feature in the new exhibition”
Councillor Carole Jones, Ipswich Borough Council’s Museums Service Portfolio Holder, said: “These artworks are a wonderful addition to the Ipswich collection, and the upcoming exhibition will give the people of Ipswich new insight into such a famous local artist”
Richard Wilson, Chairman of The Friends of the Ipswich Museums, said: “At this time of tremendous uncertainty, the determination of all parties to work together to ensure this historic album’s purchase and conservation is a commitment to those future generations who will enjoy and learn from it.”
Julia Brettell, National Programmes Lead at the V&A, said: “The Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund is delighted to be able to support Ipswich Museum’s acquisition of the Mason family album. The museum is undoubtedly the best home for this album because it will shed light on objects across the existing collections from local history to art, enabling it to play an important role in the ‘Creating Constable’ project.”