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Drawing - A ruined cottage at Capel, Suffolk
  • A ruined cottage at Capel, Suffolk
    John Constable, born 1776 - died 1837
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A ruined cottage at Capel, Suffolk

  • Object:

    Drawing

  • Place of origin:

    Suffolk, England (drawn)

  • Date:

    1796 (drawn)

  • Artist/Maker:

    John Constable, born 1776 - died 1837 (drawn)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    pen and ink

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Isabel Constable, daughter of the artist

  • Museum number:

    358A-1888

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case WD, shelf 12

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Constable's inscription at the top of the drawing notes that this cottage was the subject of a local legend. A few years previously, an old woman had burned to death inside, leaving the rest of the cottage unscathed by the flames; apparently witchcraft was suspected.

This drawing comes from Constable's earliest known sketchbook. In 1796, he had not yet committed himself to an artistic career and it was assumed that he would enter his father's business in Suffolk. That year he met the writer J. T. 'Antiquity' Smith, who was collecting material for a book on rural scenery, and showed him several drawings of local cottages -- perhaps including this one -- for possible inclusion. Although Smith responded positively, he ultimately did not use any of Constable's sketches in the published book.

Physical description

A pen and ink drawing of a ruined cottage, backed by trees, on the bank of a stream. The stone chimney survives intact; the roof is gone; some of the wall timbers and part of the gable opposite the chimney remain, but lean precariously.

Place of Origin

Suffolk, England (drawn)

Date

1796 (drawn)

Artist/maker

John Constable, born 1776 - died 1837 (drawn)

Materials and Techniques

pen and ink

Marks and inscriptions

'Caple Suffolk. a Curious circumstance happened in this Cottage a few years since of a poor Woman being burnt to death ['to death' crossed out] intirely to ashes . . .' [the rest erased]

Dimensions

Height: 180 mm, Width: 299 mm

Object history note

This drawing is one of the thirteen earliest dated drawings by Constable whose whereabouts are known. A visitor to the Museum from the neighbourhood of Capel St. Mary said (c.1920-30) that the tradition about the old woman being burnt still persisted although the cottage had disappeared. The peculiar circumstance was that nothing in the cottage except the old woman was burnt; apparently witchcraft was suspected. [Reynolds, p. 35]

Historical context note

John Constable was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, on 11 June 1776, the second son of Golding Constable, a well-to-do mill-owner, and Ann Watts. His fondness for painting, without any marked precocity, had already declared itself by the time he was 16 or 17: and he was encouraged in this taste by his friendship with John Dunthorne, a plumber and glazier of East Bergholt, who was an amateur painter.

Excluding copies after engravings, 358A-1888 is among the earliest dated drawings by Constable of which the whereabouts are now known. In 1796, Constable, not yet firmly committed to an artistic career, met the writer J. T. 'Antiquity' Smith, who was compiling Remarks on Rural Scenery; With twenty etchings of Cottages, from Nature; and some observations and precepts relative to the pictoresque (published June 1797). Constable wrote to Smith in October 1796, offering to send him several drawings of cottages, perhaps from this sketchbook, which he might find suitable for his purposes. Although Smith apparently responded positively, none of Constable's drawings appears in the published edition.

In 1797 Constable was following his father's business in Suffolk. In 1799 he went to London to pursue his career in the arts, and on Farington's recommendation he was admitted as a probationer to the Academy Schools in March of that year.

Lt.-Col. C. A. Brooks considers that this drawing represents a cottage at Marsh Farm, Brantham, which was demolished in 1958 (G. Reynolds, Catalogue of the Constable Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1973, p.34)In 1796, Constable, not yet firmly committed to an artistic career, met the writer J. T. 'Antiquity' Smith, who was compiling Remarks on Rural Scenery; With twenty etchings of Cottages, from Nature; and some observations and precepts relative to the pictoresque (published June 1797). Constable wrote to Smith in October 1796, offering to send him several drawings of cottages, perhaps from this sketchbook, which he might find suitable for his purposes. Although Smith apparently responded positively, none of Constable's drawings appears in the published edition.

Descriptive line

Drawing of a ruined cottage near Capel, Suffolk, by John Constable

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

G. Reynolds, Victoria and Albert Museum: Catalogue of the Constable Collection, 1973, p. 35, no. 13.
According to a museum visitor from the neighbourhood of Capel St Mary (c. 1920-1930), the tradition about the old woman being burnt still persisted, despite the cottage's disappearance. Apparently, nothing in the cottage except the old woman was burnt, leading to suspicions of witchcraft.

The following is the full text of the note on the entry:
NOTE ON NOS. 1-13

"These drawings are on leaves detached from a sketch-book of 14 pages. The sketchbook, which consists of three sheets folded but not sewn and one half-sheet, all of coarse laid paper, was used in Suffolk and the date 1796 on No. 10 [358d-1888] may be assumed to be that of the other drawings of the book.

Constable had met J. T. ('Antiquity') Smith in Edmonton in August 1796 (Beckett, Il, p. 3) at a time when the latter was collecting material for his Remarks on Rural Scenery; With twenty etchings of Cottages, from Nature; and some observations and precepts relative to the pictoresque, published in June 1797. In a letter of 27 October 1796 he wrote to Smith from East Bergholt (L. ed. S., p. 8): "I have in my walks pick'd up several Cottages and per adventure I may have been fortunate enough to hit upon one or two that might please. If you think it is likely that I have, let me know and I'll send you my sketch-book and make a drawing of any you like if there should not be enough to work from". On 16 January 1797 (ibid., p. 10) he wrote: "You flatter me highly respecting my 'Cottages', and I am glad you have found one or two amongst them worthy of your needle". Shortly afterwards he again wrote from East Bergholt (ibid., p. 9 but not dated 2 December 1796 as there stated): "A favourable oppertunity occuring of sending the Cottages, which I mentioned to you some time back, I would not let it pass, but I doubt they will not be worth the trouble of your looking over. If I should be so fortunate as to have found any that should suit you I should be glad". These passages show that Constable was sending to Smith sketches of Suffolk cottages, and perhaps this identical sketch-book; but none of these sketches (1-13) was used in the published edition of Remarks on Rural Scenery and no plates in that book after Constable have been identified. The published plates are all lettered Drawn and etch'd (or engraved) by J. T. Smith and represent cottages in or near London and the Home Counties; in particular, some are from Edmonton and its vicinity.

G. Reynolds"

Associated names

Smith, J. T.

Materials

Pen and ink

Techniques

Drawing

Subjects depicted

Cottage; Suffolk; Capel

Categories

Drawings

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O116923
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