How Many Paintings Were Sold during Constable’s Lifetime?

How Many Paintings Were Sold during Constable's Lifetime

John Constable (1776 – 1837) was an English Romantic painter. He is known today mainly for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale. He created so many depictions of this area that the Dedham Vale area is known as “Constable Country.” 

Because of various reasons, John Constable’s landscape paintings did not sell well during his lifetime. To keep financially afloat, he created portraits, but he did that out of financial necessity and not because of a love of the genre. As a result, he sold only 20 landscape paintings in his home country, England, and France, a few more during his lifetime.

We’ll delve into some of the possible reasons why few of his landscape paintings were sold in his lifetime and then identify some of the works sold during that time.

Possible Reasons for not Selling – Non-Artistic Reasons

In his lifetime, John Constable sold only 20 paintings in his home country, England, but he successfully sold more than 20 in just a few years in France. One of the reasons for the small number of sales is that despite the struggle by art sellers and galleries to sell John Constable’s paintings, he refused all invitations to travel internationally to promote his work. He wrote at a stage that he would rather be a poor man in England than a rich man abroad. 

His work didn’t sell during his lifetime. It was not because of inferior quality but more because of a lack of self-promotion of the “Constable artist.” Although his work didn’t sell at the time, the painter John Constable was known by many galleries In England and France. He also received various art rewards for his landscapes.

In France, his works were sold by Arrowsmith, but because of the late delivery of some commissioned pieces and other financial-related differences, John Constable and Arrowsmith quarreled, and John Constable’s paintings were denied further access to the lucrative French market.

Possible Reasons for not Selling – From an Artistic Point of View

When you learn about painter John Constable by looking at the paintings and drawings of Constable, you can see from an artistic point of view what one of the reasons might have been why so few of his paintings were sold in his lifetime.   

The criticism that is sometimes directed at Constable today has been the same during his time. Some art critics see him as the painter of pleasant, ‘chocolate-box’ landscapes. 

The British artistic establishment of the 1800s had this conception of Constable’s landscapes and other artworks. However, his works were received more positively in Paris on the other side of the channel. 

To financially survive, Constable had to paint commissioned portraits of society folk. 

First Important Painting Sold in His Lifetime- The White Horse

In 1819, the first of the important paintings of John Constable was sold. The painting, “The White Horse,” was favorably mentioned by Charles Robert Leslie, who published “Memoirs of the Life of John Constable” in 1843, and was the Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy from 1848 to 1852. Leslie commented that “The White Horse” was, for several reasons, the most crucial picture Constable ever painted.  

The painting (without the frame) was sold for 100 guineas, which was a substantial amount of money at the time, to Constable’s friend, John Fisher. The selling of this painting provided Constable with financial freedom he had never known before. 

“The White Horse” was also a significant turning point in Constable’s painting career. Because of the success of this painting John Constable was elected an associate of the Royal Academy.

The White Horse – John Constable

Constable Sold a Six-Footer

Constable was elected as an associate of the Royal Academy which led to a series of six monumental landscapes. These paintings were later called the “six-footers” because of their massive scale. The “six-footers” are considered today by many art scholars as the knottiest and most forceful landscapes created in the 1800s in Europe. 

They depicted the River Stour, and for many art lovers, they are the defining works of John Constable’s paintings and artistic career. The series includes “Stratford Mill,” created in 1820, “The Hay Wain,” painted in 1821, and “View on the Stour near Dedham,” created in 1822. “The Lock” was painted in 1824, and “The Leaping Horse” was completed in 1825. 

Stratford Mill – John Constable

When the second six-footer, “Stratford Mill,” was exhibited, “The Examiner” described it as having “a more exact look of nature than any picture we have ever seen by an Englishman.” The painting was a success and was Constable’s second painting to be sold.

Like “The White Horse,” the painting was bought by Constable’s friend, John Fisher. Fisher purchased it for 100 guineas as a present for his solicitor and friend, John Tinney. Because he loved the painting so much, Tinney offered Constable another 100 guineas to paint a companion picture. Unfortunately, Constable didn’t take up the offer.

Package of Paintings Sold

One of the most famous John Constable paintings, “The Hay Wain,” was exhibited in 1821 at the Royal Academy’s exhibition. At that stage, it did not sell. But although it failed to find a buyer, it was noticed by some influential people in the art world of the time. The critical people included two Frenchmen. One was the artist Théodore Géricault, and the other was the writer Charles Nodier. 

They were pretty stunned by John Constable’s paintings, and Nodier even suggested that French artists should, like Constable, look to nature rather than relying on visits to Rome for inspiration. 

“The Hay Wain” was eventually purchased by the Anglo-French dealer John Arrowsmith in 1824. He also bought “View on the Stour near Dedham.” Constable added a miniature painting of the Yarmouth Jetty, and the whole package totaled £250.

Interestingly, both paintings were exhibited at the Paris Salon soon after, where they caused a sensation. “Charles X. Later awarded the Hay Wain” a gold medal, “The Hay Wain” was purchased by the art collector Henry Vaughan who then donated it to the National Gallery in 1886.

The Lock and other Paintings

As you learn about John Constable, he was often late with commissioned work or artwork to show at exhibitions. For example, “The Lock” wasn’t finished in time for the 1823 exhibition. His main entry was the smaller “Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds.” 

But “The Lock” was exhibited the following year and sold for 150 guineas on the first day of the exhibition. So it has been the only artwork of all the paintings or drawings by Constable that has ever been sold on the first day of a show.  

The only six-footer that didn’t sell in Constable’s lifetime was “The Leaping Horse.”


Nowadays, John Constable’s paintings can be found in many art galleries and collections. As a result, he is now receiving all the recognition he hasn’t had during his lifetime. But as indicated in this article, it was to a great extent by Constable’s own doing that the works did not sell.   

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