This rapid study was made by John Constable on a trip to Feering in Essex to stay with his friend the Rev. William Driffield. Signed and dated 22nd October 1817, this drawing offers fascinating insight into Constable's working practice.
Drawing was central to Constable's art, although his oil sketches are better known and more frequently discussed. Constable invariably travelled with a sketchbook to record the landscapes he encountered. On an earlier trip to stay with Driffield at Feering, Constable noted in a letter to his future wife, Maria: 'I have filled as usual a little book of hasty memorandums of the places which I saw which you will see.' In this case he was travelling with Maria, returning from East Bergholt, but thanks to a sequence of inscriptions, we can place this fluid study of Markshall and the adjoining church of St Margaret's in the context of Constable's other works. One of Constable's most elaborate and grandly worked drawings Elm Trees in Old Hall Park, East Bergholt was signed and dated the same day. That highly finished drawing was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1818 and suggests the differing graphic modes Constable deployed for drawings intended to have a public life and those, such as this informal and explorative sketch which he retained for his private study.
Constable made views of country houses throughout his career, earlier in the year he had painted nearby Wivenhoe Park for Major-General F. Slater-Rebow. This lucrative commission had been partly instigated by Driffield to enable Constable to marry. Markshall was owned by William Honywood, the MP for Kent, and it may have been that Constable hoped for a commission to paint the house. Certainly, this drawing is particularly accurate in its rendering of the Jacobean architecture of the house, suggesting that he was thinking more of a portrait of the house than a more general landscape simply containing the house. On the verso of the sheet is a small compositional study of a dog in a landscape, pointing to the way Constable used his sketchbook, rotating the page from landscape to portrait and making a small, informal notation. On the following day 23rd October 1817, still at Feering, Constable made the characteristic study of two cottages in the village on the next sheet of the sketchbook, this drawing is also including in this exhibition.