V&A uncovers new John Constable painting hidden behind another work of art

Experts at the V&A have discovered a new oil sketch by artist John Constable.

The previously unrecorded work was found on the reverse of his painting Branch Hill Pond: Hampstead.

The newly discovered artwork was uncovered while the painting was being prepared for the V&A’s Constable exhibition next year. Conservators Clare Richardson and Nicola Costaras noticed that a canvas lining at the back of the painting had come loose. Upon removal it revealed the oil sketch.

According to the V&A, Constable was known to have been thrifty with his artist’s materials and occasionally painted sketches on both sides of a support, which were typically of homemade paper laminate, panel, millboard or sometimes scraps of reused canvas.

Six other sketches, bequeathed to the V&A by Constable’s daughter, Isabel, are also double sided works.

The newly found oil sketch is a roughly painted depiction of a woodland clearing fringed by trees beneath an unsettled sky. In the foreground a squat brown cylindrical structure with a waft of smoke is visible, and according to the V&A, most probably represents a kiln.

The 24.5 x 39.4cm sketch has had its tacking margins folded out, flattened and painted over, suggesting that the scene on the front was painted with the canvas pinned to a solid support, probably the lid of the artist’s paint box which he used for sketching in oils outdoors.

According to the V&A, the scene was probably made in the late summer of 1821 or 1822 when Constable painted a number of sketches featuring similar cloud studies and motifs, as seen in another of the double-sided oil sketches in the museum’s collection, Branch Hill Pond: Evening, which also probably dates from those years.

Constable, an English romantic painter, is most famed for his work The Hay Wain, painted in 1831, which hangs in the National Gallery.

The newly discovered work will now go on display in the V&A’s Paintings Galleries, and will also go on show next year at the museum’s major autumn 2014 exhibition Constable: The Making of a Master, in which both sides of the canvas are likely to be displayed.

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