Drawing was central to John Constable's practice as a painter. Throughout his career, during his regular trips back to his native Suffolk, or visiting friends around the country, Constable used sketchbooks to record the views he encountered.
These studies often formed the basis for his exhibited works in oil. Few of Constable's sketchbooks survive intact making the process of reconstructing his movements and artistic processes complex. Thanks to this fluid pencil study, which is inscribed and dated October 1817, we know John Constable and his wife, Maria, visited the village of Feering on their return from a stay at East Bergholt. Feering was the home of Constable's long-standing friend, the Rev. William Driffield, situated in Essex between Chelmsford and Colchester. It formed an important locus in Constable's mental map of Britain, offering him access to several significant sites, including the ruins of Hadleigh Castle which he visited during a stay at Feering in 1814 and which formed the basis for one of his most dramatic six-foot landscapes.
In October 1817 Constable took with him a sketchbook of John Dickinson paper, which he had used at East Bergholt and used it to complete at least two rapid studies. The studies, reunited in this online exhibition for the first time, show the facade of Markshall, Essex, a Jacobean house situated a few miles from Feering and two cottages in the village itself. This sheet, which belonged to the great Constable scholar, R. B. Beckett, shows two cottages bisected by a lane, with a distant view of trees. Handled with a shimmering use of graphite, this study shows how Constable was capable of capturing a complex composition with a limited number of rapid pencil marks; the small village scene is enlivened with figures, a small dog in the foreground and birds wheeling over the cottages. Constable's economy and precision enabled him to record this small rural view rapidly but with total authority. Preserved in outstanding condition, this impressionistic study offers fascinating insight into Constable and his working practice.