This oil sketch of Salisbury Cathedral by John Constable was known as "The Vision" by the artist's family, which owned it until the end of the 19th century.
Titled Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds (1823), the loose, fluid work is the last known version of this view of the cathedral by Constable left in private hands and will now be offered at auction for the first time, at Christie's Old Masters evening sale on 7 December in London.
Estimated at £2m to £3m, it was acquired by the consignor, a UK-based private collector, from a previous owner, who themselves had bought it from the London dealer Simon Dickinson around ten years ago.
The 65cm x 76cm full-scale sketch is for a finished painting which is now in the Huntington Library and Art Gallery in San Marino, California. It was commissioned by Constable's most significant patron, John Fisher (1748-1825), Bishop of Salisbury, for whom Constable painted a famous series of works in the 1820s.
Constable first did a pencil sketch of this view in 1811 and then made an en plein air oil sketch in 1820. As Clementine Sinclair, the head of Old Masters Evening Sale at Christie’s London, says: "The bishop [of Salisbury] commissioned a finished painting of that view on the basis of the oil sketch, and that finished painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy [of Arts in London (RA)] in 1823." It now resides in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, while the oil sketch is in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. "The bishop's daughter gets engaged and she requests a version of this painting, so Bishop Fisher commissions a second version from Constable," Sinclair says. "But Constable being Constable doesn't just do a slavish copy, he actually wants to improve on his initial exhibition painting. So he executes this sketch as a full scale compositional sketch." Two years later, Bishop Fisher commissioned a third version of the subject, the sketch for which is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the finished painting in the Frick Collection, New York.
On the market for Constable's work, Sinclair says: "There are quite a lot of collectors with a specific interest in Constable and he is an artist, like Turner, who transcends the Old Master market and appeals to collectors of Modern and contemporary art—they tend to be particularly drawn to his sketches, because of the very fluid handling, so they often do well and of course, Constable did a lot of sketches."
Interest in Asia is rising and, Sinclair says, "hopefully fortuitously, there is a exhibition in Museum of Art of Pudong in Shanghai at the moment, with works from the Tate including their six-footer view of Salisbury cathedral with the rainbow [by Constable]. So that will hopefully help raise awareness in Asia."
Meanwhile at the RA, Late Constable has just opened (until 13 February).
Also in Christie's evening Old Masters sale this December is El Greco’s Portrait of a Gentleman (1570), estimated at £800,000-£1.2m, which is one of three paintings in the sale which have been restituted to the heirs of Julius and Camilla Priester, Viennese art collectors who had their whole collection seized by the Nazis between 1938 and 1944.