Constable painting up for auction with an estimate of £3-5million after being sold as a copy for £40,000 last year

An oil painting by the English Romantic landscape painter John Constable (1776-1837) sold in an auction in Cincinnati, Ohio, last year as a copy, making £40,000 against a pre-sale estimate of only $1,000-2,000. It has now been authenticated as being a genuine Constable. It will be sold in Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings December sale with an impressive estimate of £3-5 million.

The painting, titled The Glebe Farm, is one of five works Constable did of the same subject, three of which are now in the collection of the Tate and one of which is at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The group of works was made by Constable following the 1825 death of his close friend and important patron John Fisher, the Bishop of Salisbury, who had lived at Glebe Farm. The paintings are based upon an oil sketch of the farmhouse made in around 1810, which Constable returned to years later. According to Sarah Cove, founder of the Constable Research Project, this painting is thought to have been made in 1828, and shows the artist preparing to transfer the small work now in the Detroit collection (which is dated 1827) to the larger scale final work now at the Tate, which dates to 1830. The work therefore provides a crucial link between the earlier and later versions of this scene.

Julian Gascoigne, Sotheby’s director of early British paintings, told The Times, that the work was a “vital link between the various versions of the composition” and “the most significant and important discovery in Constable scholarship for at least a generation.” The painting has, in fact, only been seen by the public twice since the nineteenth century. It was sold by the artist’s studio, but then disappeared sometime after 1867. In 1922, it reemerged in Cincinnati in the collection of Edward William Edwards, an industrialist and art collector. By descent, the painting ended up with his grandson, Thomas Edwards Davidson, who died in 1994. It was then sold by his descendants last year as a copy. The current anonymous owner of the work purchased it at this sale. Despite being entered into the auction at a very low estimate of $1,000-2,000, a bidding war ensued, suggesting buyers were aware this painting was more important than the auction catalogue would suggest.

Sotheby’s have described this “luminous and engaging” painting as “one of the most significant and exciting developments in Constable scholarship in modern times.” The painting will be auctioned on 8 December, and will be on view to the public from 3-8 December.

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