An 1823 oil sketch depicting a view of Salisbury Cathedral by British romantic painter John Constable—the last known version of the subject by the artist still in private hands—is coming to auction next month. Carrying an estimate of £2 million–£3 million ($2.7 million–$4 million), the work will hit the block during Christie’s Old Masters evening sale in London on December 7.
Constable produced the sketch, titled The Vision (1823), in preparation for a painting that resides at the Huntington Library and Art Gallery in California. The present lot derives from a series depicting the Cathedral view that Constable produced in the 1820s on commission by his friend and benefactor, John Fisher, the Bishop of Salisbury. Before it came into the hands of the current seller, a private collector based in the U.K., its previous owner purchased it from a London dealer 10 years ago.
Constable produced many sketches over the course of his career. The image of Salisbury Cathedral, one of England’s most famed medieval churches dating to the 14th century, is among Constable’s most recognizable subjects.
Other examples of the view represented in the present lot reside in international museum collections. Based from another oil sketch of a similar Cathedral view, Fischer commissioned the full-scale completed painting Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds (1823) as an an engagement gift for his daughter, which is now in the permanent collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. He commissioned another rendition of the same scene that is now in the Frick Collection in New York—the sketch of which now belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In each of the canvases, Fisher appears at lower left corner.
Though the sketch coming up for auction may be the last version remaining in private hands that served as the basis for the coveted Cathedral series, it is not exactly a rarity. Constable’s sketches are widely traded on the market. The work’s estimate is a far cry from the artist’s current auction record of $35 million, paid for the landscape painting The Lock (ca. 19th century), where it sold at Christie’s London in July 2012 from the collection of Baroness Carmen Thyssen Bornemisza.
The Vision will be sold alongside a group of three paintings restituted to the heirs of their original owners, Austrian collectors Julius and Camilla Priester, including an early El Greco portrait.