John Constable RA, Willy Lott’s House from the Stour (The Valley Farm) © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.
OXFORD.- The Ashmolean has acquired a painting by John Constable, RA (1776–1837) which has been accepted by the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. Willy Lott’s House from the Stour (The Valley Farm) was painted in c. 1816–18 and is the first finished work by Constable to enter the Ashmolean’s collection.
The picture shows one of the artist’s most personal subjects, which appeared in his work throughout his life from 1802 until it reached its final form in The Valley Farm, exhibited in 1835 (now at Tate). The farm building is also seen from a different angle in The Hay Wain, painted 1821 and now at the National Gallery.
Willy Lott, a farmer who apparently lived in the house for more than 80 years and only spent four whole days away from it, was there when Constable was born, and still there when Constable died. He thus represented a continuity and a tradition of farming that Constable valued, and which changed a great deal in the 1820s and 1830s. The composition of Willy Lott’s House from the Stour is closely related to The Ferry, shown at the Royal Academy in 1814 (now in a private collection). However, Constable has clearly changed his mind and removed the ferry from this picture, bottom right, leaving a subtle evocation of the shimmering reflections of trees in the water.
The Ashmolean acquired its first work by Constable, a ravishing small oil sketch of Salisbury Water Meadows, in 1855 which was the second work by the artist to enter a public collection, after The Cornfield in the National Gallery. The Ashmolean now has four oil sketches firmly attributable to Constable, including one of the celebrated cloud studies of 1822.
The painting has a particularly interesting early provenance. It was owned by Jonathan Peel, younger brother of the prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, whose fine collection of paintings was sold to the National Gallery in 1871. In 1848 the painting was sold in London and acquired by the New York philanthropist and collector, James Lennox, and is believed to be the first work by Constable to enter an American collection. It was sold by the New York Public Library and returned to the UK in 1956. The acceptance of this painting has settled £1,012,200 of Inheritance Tax.
Dr Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean Museum, says: « It is a huge honour to receive this beautiful painting – the first finished work by Constable to come to the Ashmolean – in my first month as Director. The Museum is profoundly grateful to Arts Council England for its support. The painting is on display in the 19th Century Gallery where it can now be enjoyed by thousands of visitors in perpetuity. »
Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair Arts Council England, says: ‘This gorgeous oil painting, a different view of the famous Haywain, is a wonderful addition to the Ashmolean and joins its existing collection of Constable oil sketches. The AIL scheme has once again delivered a really important acquisition for the nation.’