Constable Revealed at Anglesey Abbey

Embarkation of George IV from Whitehall: The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, 1817 c.1820-1832 Oil on canvas

John Constable is widely regarded as one of the greatest English landscape painters, comparable only to his contemporary and rival J.M.W. Turner. Anglesey Abbey is home to a small yet significant collection of Constable’s work. The works range from early oil paintings of local landscapes to his largest ever canvas, Embarkation of George IV from Whitehall: The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, which has returned home to Anglesey Abbey, following conservation.

Restored to its former glory, this remarkable painting is now back on show for the first time since returning from the Royal Oak Conservation Studio at Knole, Kent. Discover the painting's story and explore the Constable collection at Anglesey Abbey with an exclusive object trail in the house from 29 April-31 October 2022. 

Anglesey Abbey is a home rather than a gallery, giving a sense of the kinds of spaces in which Constable’s 19th-century patrons enjoyed his art. Ongoing research, analysis and conservation of this little-known collection continues to reveal new dimensions of Constable’s practice.

The house is closed throughout August for conservation cleaning but we are opening our doors for a unique opportunity to take an exclusive tour around our new Constable Revealed object trail. Join one of our knowledgeable volunteer guides on an intimate tour where you’ll get a closer look at the diverse Constable collection at Anglesey Abbey. Tickets for the tour are free, but we would gratefully receive a £5 donation which will then go towards the care of the collection at Anglesey Abbey. Please book your tickets in advance for the August tour by clicking here or call 0344 3249 1895.

Revealing Constable’s Practice

George IV (then Prince Regent) embarked from the steps of Whitehall in a royal barge, crossing the Thames to open Waterloo Bridge in 1817, on the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Constable probably witnessed the ceremony, making pencil sketches of the scene that year.

This version of the subject, The Opening of Waterloo Bridge within Anglesey Abbey's Constable collection, has long puzzled art historians. Was it an abandoned attempt at a finished painting, a full-scale preparatory oil sketch, or a combination of the two? 

" This particular work has perplexed art historians for quite a long time. We’re hoping this conservation treatment will actually go some way towards answering some of those questions. "
- Sarah Maisey, Senior Remedial Paintings Conservator

Removal of discoloured varnish exposed lively mark-making, suggesting an artist working at pace across large areas. The improvements to the painting’s appearance are so dramatic, it almost looks like a different time of day or season. The texture of the paint surface and details can also be seen much more clearly. 

Our understanding of our collections is constantly evolving. New imaging technologies could further our understanding of this painting in the future.

Painting conservation at the Royal Oak Conservation Studio at Knole, Kent
Conservation Cleaning of the Opening of Waterloo Bridge by John Constable
Painting conservation at the Royal Oak Conservation Studio at Knole, Kent

 

Rediscovering Constable

World-renowned Constable expert, Anne Lyles, has worked with the National Trust to reattribute this sketch, Summer Evening, Stoke-By-Nayland, to Constable. Purchased by Lord Fairhaven as a genuine Constable, the painting was later catalogued as ‘after’ Constable and disappeared from Constable scholarship. Constable has often been imitated and his children painted in a similar style, making it very difficult to identify works by the artist himself.

Summer Evening, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, c.1809-1810 by John Constable
Summer Evening, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, c.1809-1810 by John Constable
Summer Evening, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, c.1809-1810 by John Constable

Compelling evidence now suggests this work is genuine. Constable used scraps of canvas for sketches, untacking the cloth from its stretcher and incorporating the holes into the body of the painting. This can be seen along the top of the canvas. This sketch is believed to have belonged to the artist’s son, Charles Constable, and can almost certainly be identified in a sale catalogue of his father’s belongings in 1869. These clues have helped identify this work as genuine, reestablishing its place in Constable’s legacy.

Lamarsh Hall, Lamarsh, Essex c.1799 Oil on canvas by John Constable

Constable Revealed online exhibition

As part of our Constable Revealed object trail in the house, we also invite you to explore the collection in our online exhibition. Here you can enjoy highlights from the object trail and come face-to-face with the recently restored exhibition centrepiece, Embarkation of George IV from Whitehall: The Opening of Waterloo Bridge.