For sale: The Lock – version two

If money is burning in your pocket, but you missed out on Maerten and his Oopjen and are weary of buying the Rubens you won’t be able to hang on your wall … Perhaps another Rubens or even a Constable might do? Sotheby’s will auction one in December.

The first and better known version of “The Lock” dates from 1824. It is one of six very large paintings by John Constable of scenes situated in the Stour Valley. If, like me, you were lucky enough to visit the “Constable: The Great Landscapes” exhibition at the Tate in 2006, you will be familiar with the size. Constable painted his first so-called six-footer scenes between 1819 and 1825. These paintings are considered to be the start of his “maturity” as a painter.

One of the canvasses, “The White Horse” dating from 1819, is owned by the Frick Collection in New York. This summer, it was on show at the The Hague Mauritshuis, during a short temporary exhibition of Frick art treasures.

Another of the paintings is the much-loved “The Hay Wain”, dating from 1822. This one can be admired at the National Gallery in London. “The Lock” – version one – was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1824 and snapped up by a wealthy English collector, James Morrison. His descendants sold it in 1990.

Both versions of “The Lock” shows a man opening Dedham lock near Flatford Mill in Suffolk, to allow a small boat to continue its way on the river Stour. There is drama in the man’s struggle, the large tree, and sky. One nearly feels the man’s muscles strain, the effort of opening the lock’s gate and fight against the water’s force.

The large Stour valley canvasses, as well as Constable’s later landscape paintings, were much admired by contemporary French landscape artists and influenced French Impressionists. The first version of “The Lock” was auctioned by Christie’s and acquired by the Thyssen-Bornemisza’s for 22,441,250 UK pounds. It was on show in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, till the Baroness sold the painting in 2011. What happened in 2011 – 2012 with this painting, including it breaking records at its auction, caused an enormous scandal.

The second version of “The Lock”, which will be auctioned by Sotheby’s during its evening sale on 9 December. It was painted shortly after the first version was exhibited and sold to James Morrison. Constable never sold this second version, but kept it in his studio.

After his death, the painting was bought by a collector called Birch. He paid a higher price for this painting than for “Salisbury Cathedral”, but had to part with it in 1855. William Orme-Foster acquired it – again for a record price. Descendants of William are now putting the painting up for sale.

If you are now interested in owning an old master, painted by Constable and one he so obviously cherished … take a deep breath. This version of “The Lock” is estimated to earn its current owners and the auction house at least 12 million UK pounds.

Art historians and art dealers have already stated they expect it to bring in far more. So if your piggy bank does not contain at least twelve million UK pounds ready cash, forget about bidding. Just start hoping you may one day admire this painting in a museum.

Sotheby’s announcement


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