On the block - Constable's 'Lock' *

May 29 2012

Image of On the block - Constable's 'Lock' *

Picture: Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

Constable's 'The Lock' is to be sold by Christie's this July in London. The estimate is £20m-25m. From The Guardian:

The auction house said it was to sell the only one of Constable's Stour series - which includes The Hay Wain in the National Gallery - that remains in private hands.

Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie's Europe, said The Lock was "one of John Constable's greatest paintings and an outstanding masterpiece of British art". He added: "This superb landscape, coming from the same series as The Hay Wain, represents British landscape painting at its very best and is sure to attract bidding from museums and collectors from all over the world."

UK museums are unlikely to have deep enough pockets for a work that, when it was bought at auction in 1990, set a record for a British work of art. It was bought for £10.8m and held the record until 2006 when a view of Venice by Turner, Constable's rival, sold for £20.5m at Christie's in New York. Another Turner sold for £29m at Sotheby's in London in 2010.

Who will buy it? Who knows. Can a British museum afford it? Perhaps the Heritage Lottery Fund's recent decision to give a whole chunk of cash towards the Ashmolean's Manet is indicative of a new willingness to help with acquisitions. But don't hold your breath...

The sale is likely to be controversial in Spain. The picture used to hang in the Thyssen museum, but is being sold by the widow of the late Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former Miss Spain. There was a row about it last year, with the Baron's daughter calling her stepmother 'isolated from reality', and blocking the sale of any pictures from the museum. But then again, perhaps the people of Spain won't miss a Constable that much. And who knows, if the selling thing catches on, we may even be able to buy back one of our greatest lost treasures, Holbein's Portrait of Henry VIII, which was sold by one of the Earls Spencer in 1934. Now that would make a dent in the Spanish deficit.  

* I know that's a really lame rhyming headline. 

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