Brighton Beach, with Colliers thumbnail 1
Brighton Beach, with Colliers thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS , Case R, Shelf 98, Box L

Brighton Beach, with Colliers

Oil Painting
19/07/1824 (painted)
Place of origin

This sketch depicts coal brigs against the sky. Constable sent it to John Fisher, the godfather of his daughter Maria Louisa. It is inscribed: 'My dear Maria's Birthday Your Goddaughter - Very lovely Evening - looking eastward - cliffs & light off a dark grey [?] effect - background - very white and golden light'.
read John Constable – an introduction Constable's work transformed the genre of landscape painting and shaped the enduring popular image of the English countryside.
Object details
Object type
Materials and techniques
oil on paper
Brief description
Oil painting, 'Brighton Beach, with colliers', John Constable, 1824
Physical description
This is catalogue no.266 in Reynolds "Catalogue of the Constable Collection" (1960), plate 202.

Inscribed on the back in pencil (probably by the artist, but partly copied in ink, or inked over) "3d tide receeding left the beach wet - head of the Chain Pier Beach Brighton July Evg., 1824 my dear Maria's Birthday Your Goddaughter - Very lovely Evening - looking Eastward- Cliffs & light off a dark grey [?] effect - background - very white and golden light". Inscribed with the monogram "JC". Also inscribed in ink over an earlier pencil inscription "Colliers on the beach" (colliers are coal ships).

Beckett (Beckett, VI, p. 168) suggests that the inscription is on a mutilated piece of paper on the back of the sketch, possibly part of a contemplated letter to Fisher, but it is on the back of the sketch itself, and in the form customary for the series of sketches Nos. 263-268 (Museum Number 782-1888; 783-1888; 148-1888; 591-1888;335-1888; 149-1888).

The inscription identifies the sketch as one of those sent by Constable to his friend John Fisher, Archdeacon of Salisbury, on 5 January 1825. Maria Louisa Constable was Fisher's god-daughter.
  • Height: 146cm
  • Estimate width: 24.8cm
  • Frame height: 41.8cm (Note: Taken from frame)
  • Frame width: 57cm (Note: Taken from frame)
  • Frame depth: 4cm
  • Width: 246mm
Dimensions taken from previous conservation report
Marks and inscriptions
'3d tide receding left the beach wet - Head of the Chain Pier Beach Brighton July 9 Evg., 1824 - My dear Maria's Birthday Your God-Daughter - Very lovely Evening - looking Eastward - cliffs and light off a dark grey[?] effect - background - very white and golden light.' (Constable, John; 09/07/1824)
Credit line
Given by Isabel Constable
Object history
Given by Isabel Constable, 1888

Historical significance: In his letter to Fisher of 29 August 1824 (Beckett, VI, pp. 170-2), Constable gives an unflattering description of Brighton and concludes: "In short there is nothing here for a painter but the breakers-& sky-which have been lovely indeed and always varying. The fishing boats are picturesque, but not so much so as the Hasting boats which are luggers ... But these subjects are so hackneyed in the Exhibition, and are in fact so little capable of that beautifull sentiment that landscape is capable of or which rather belongs to landscape, that they have done a great deal of harm to the art -they form a class of art much easier than landscape & have in consequence almost supplanted it ... " Constable had offered to lend Fisher one of his Brighton sketch-books but was eventually unable to do so because of the suggestion that the sketches should be engraved (see note following No. 284). In place of them he sent a number of oil sketches . He refers to them in his letter of 5 January 1825 (Beckett, VI, p.189): I have enclosed in the box a dozen of my Brighton oil sketches-perhaps the sight of the sea may cheer Mrs F-they were done in the lid of my box on my knees as usual. Will you be so good as to take care of them. I put them in a book on purpose -as I fmd dirt destroys them a good deal. Will you repack the box as you fmd it. Return them to me here at your leisure but the sooner the better". In his letter of [6] April 1825 (Beckett, VI, p. 196) Fisher speaks of returning the Brighton sketches, and sending with them two volumes of Paley's sermons: "They are fit companions for your sketches, being exactly like them: full of vigour, & nature, fresh, original, warm from observation of nature, hasty, unpolished, untouched afterwards".

The inscription on the back of No. 266 [Museum No591-1888] shows that it was almost certainly one of the Brighton oil sketches in this batch sent by Constable to Fisher. Others among the sketches certainly painted in this year (Nos. 263-265, 267 and 268) [Museum No. 782-1888; 783-1888;148-1888; 335-1888;149-1888] may well have been included in the consignment.
Historical context
In 1824 Constable paid the first of a number of visits to Brighton - the newly fashionable town, for the sake of the health of his wife, Maria, who was dying of consumption. He was little taken with the town, whose crowded beach he described as 'Piccadilly by the sea-side', but could not fail to be impressed by the clarity and immensity of the sea and the sky there and their appearance in the sun and wind. He made a number of sketches there, some of which he sent to his friend John Fisher for inspection.

The portrayal of colliers (coal-ships) may seem slightly unusual in a popular sea-side resort like Brighton, but probably reflects Constable's concern to show the landscape as a place in which people live and work. Constable purposely avoided a 'picturesque' depiction of the scene, with fishing boats, nets and fishermen, as 'these subjects are so hackneyed in the (Royal Academy) Exhibition, and are in fact so little capable of that beautiful sentiment that landscape it capable of.' Instead he portrays the brightness and breeziness of the scene on a light summer's evening.

[Howard Coutts, 100 Great Paintings, p.112]

In 1824 Constable's sole exhibit at the Royal Academy was 'A Boat passing a Lock' ('The Lock') (now in the collection of Mr. S. Morrison). 'The Hay Wain', the 'View on the Stour near Dedham' and a 'View of Hampstead Heath' were exhibited at the Salon in Paris in this year. He took his wife and family to Brighton for the first time in May, and himself spent some time in London and some with them in Brighton, returning before them at the end of August.
Subjects depicted
Place depicted
This sketch depicts coal brigs against the sky. Constable sent it to John Fisher, the godfather of his daughter Maria Louisa. It is inscribed: 'My dear Maria's Birthday Your Goddaughter - Very lovely Evening - looking eastward - cliffs & light off a dark grey [?] effect - background - very white and golden light'.
Bibliographic references
  • 100 Great Paintings in the V&A Museum, published V & A, 1985
  • Parris, Leslie and Fleming-Williams, Ian. Constable London : The Tate Gallery, 1991no.147
  • Morris, Edward, ed. Constable's Clouds: Paintings and Cloud Studies by John Constable , Edinburgh : National Galleries of Scotland ; Liverpool : National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, c2000. 176 p. : ill. (some col.). ISBN 1903278058 (paperback), 1903278066 (hardback).
  • Graham Reynolds, Catalogue of the Constable Collection, London: HMSO, 1973, cat. no. 266
  • Evans, M., with N. Costaras and C. Richardson, John Constable. Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A, 2011, p. 30, fig. 25.
  • p. 6 and 64Gill Clarke and Steve Marshall, Shorelines : artists on the south coast Bristol : Sansom & Co., 2015. 112 pages : colour illustrations ; 27 cm. ISBN: 190832676X / 9781908326768.
  • p. 101Shân Lancaster, ed. Constable and Brighton: something out of nothing. London : Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers Ltd, 2017. ISBN: 9781785510694.
  • Feaver, William, Lucian Freud on John Constable, London, British Council, 2003
Other number
266, plate 202 - Reynolds catalogue no.
Accession number

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Record createdFebruary 3, 2000
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