Past Exhibition: Constable's Salisbury Cathedral

Constable's Salisbury Cathedral: Two Versions Reunited

September 21, 1999 to December 31, 1999

Between 1820 and 1826, John Constable (1776–1837) executed three oil sketches and three finished paintings depicting Salisbury Cathedral from the south side, rising over the green expanse of the bishop's grounds. All are linked to a commission of 1822 from Constable's friend and patron Bishop John Fisher, who asked him to develop one of the sketches into a finished work. Instead, Constable set out afresh, producing a canvas for the bishop that he exhibited to critical acclaim at the Royal Academy in 1823. The bishop, however, was troubled by a storm cloud around the cathedral's spire, and a year later he asked Constable for alterations.

Working from an outline of the 1823 canvas, Constable completed the commission with The Frick Collection's painting of 1826, in addition to a full-scale oil sketch now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The reuniting of these two canvases, made possible by a generous loan from the Metropolitan Museum, allowed the viewer to examine Constable's painstaking method of working out the required changes in composition and atmosphere in a nearly finished study, and to observe the subtle differences between study and finished canvas. They were shown together in the Library. Unfortunately, the bishop, who died in 1825, did not live to see the Frick painting, with its more serene sky, completed.

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