British Library uncovers missing Constable
Date: 27 Aug 2007 | | Views: 3340
Source: The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk), by Maev Kennedy
A lost sketch by John Constable, never recorded in the catalogues of his work, has tumbled with a cascade of other drawings and letters from volumes which the British Library has owned for almost a century.
The library has only just appreciated the scale of its bequest from John Platt, a wealthy textile manufacturer who became a serious art collector, who died in 1902, leaving many of his magnificently bound volumes to the British Museum. The delicate little pencil drawing of Hyam Church in the artist's native Suffolk, bought from his grandson 50 years after his death, has been hidden among the pages of one of the books ever since.
They became part of the British Library's collection in the 1970s and moved with it to Kings Cross, but have only just been studied in detail by Felicity Myrone, curator of topography.
"I was thrilled to discover this remarkable collection during the course of my research," she said. "John Platt was clearly an avid art collector and enthusiast, amassing over 1,600 portraits, views, engravings, drawings and letters relating to Turner and his contemporaries, resulting in an exquisite and important 13 volume collection of 18th-19th century art and manuscripts."
The true contents were not immediately clear, because Platt broke up a two volume biography of Turner by George Walter Thornbury, of which the library has many other copies, and had it rebound in 13 red morocco leather volumes in leather slip cases, incorporating original drawings, watercolours, prints and letters from his collection.
The volumes also include a handwritten draft introduction by Constable for English Landscape, his unsuccessful attempt to make some serious money by marketing reproductions of his work.
The newly discovered manuscript is dated May 20 1832, making it a week older than the rival version owned by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
There is also a treasury of work by his contemporaries, including drawings by Paul Sandby, Thomas Hearne, and poor Thomas Girtin, who died aged 27, according to art history legend, after sketching out of doors in a violent storm. Turner greatly admired his work, and once remarked: "If Tom had lived, I should have starved."
The Constable, some of the other drawings and documents, and some of the volumes themselves, will now go on display in the library's Treasures gallery.