Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath

Studio of John Constable, English, 1776 - 1837

Made in England, Europe

After 1825

Oil on canvas; framed, no glaze

23 x 29 1/2 inches (58.4 x 74.9 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

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Additional information:
  • PublicationBritish Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Constable first took his family to Hampstead in the summer of 1819, when he rented Albion cottage, Upper Heath. On November 2, 1819, Farington noted that Constable had "brought two pictures, studies on Hampstead Heath, which he had painted," one of which showed Branch Hill Pond;1 he returned to the theme often until 1836.

    Constable painted two basic types of views over Branch Hill Pond in Hampstead. One, which Parris, following Reynolds, calls type A, includes a steep bank of hill protruding sharply from the right foreground;2 type B, to which the Philadelphia picture and the primary versions in Richmond, Virginia (Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath, 1825, oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 30 3/4" {61.6 x 78.1 cm.}, Richmond, Virginia,Virginia Museum of Fine Arts), Winterthur (Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath, 1824, oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 30 1/4" {60 x 77 cm.}, Winterthur, Oskar Reinhart Collection), and London at the Tate Gallery (Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath, c. 1825, oil on canvas, 21 1/8 x 30 1/4" {53.6 x 76.8 cm.}, London, Tate Gallery) belong, shows the pond from higher up and further away. The two finished primary versions of Branch Hill Pond in Richmond and Winterthur are almost identical because the latter seems to have been copied from the former for the French dealer Claude Schroth in 1824. In both we find a shepherd with his flock on the left, bathers in the pond, a cow drinking, and just beyond the pond, a man leaning over a fence looking out to the windmill in the far distance. In both Constable shows men, with a dog, and carts and horses at work in the foreground, excavating sand.

    The Tate sketch is unfinished because, as the inscription states, Constable was pleased with the effect of the sky and feared spoiling it. Nevertheless, the shepherd and flock, bathers, and one cart and horse are retained at the right.

    On August 1, 1825, Constable described the scene represented in the version of Branch Hill Pond then on view at the Royal Academy (Richmond version) to its prospective purchaser, Francis Darby, as ''A scene on Hampstead Heath, with broken foreground and sand carts, Windsor Castle in the extreme distance on the right of the shower. The fresh greens in the distance (which you are pleased to admire) are the feilds about Harrow, and the villages of Hendon, Kilburn, &c.”3 The view is toward the west, southwest, taken from the end of Judges' Walk, on the Flagstaff and Whitestone pond side.

    At first glance, the Philadelphia picture appears all but empty in comparison to the Winterthur and Richmond versions, and indeed two of the major motifs in those versions--the bathers in the pond and the excavation of sand in the foreground with horses and carts--are not present in the Philadelphia picture. Other elements are, however, included--although they are tentatively dabbed in: the shepherd and flocks to the left, the cow drinking at the pond, the man leaning over the fence in the middle distance behind the pond, and the tiny white windmill in the distance. The house called the Salt Box in the right middle distance is rendered in precise detail. In addition, the central cloud formation--the storm clouds seen to sweep toward the foreground--are nearly identical in the Winterthur, the Richmond, and the Philadelphia versions, whereas in the Tate version they are very different. On the basis of the sky and background alone, one might feel comfortable with a secure attribution to Constable's hand.

    Yet the projecting hill in the foreground of the Philadelphia picture is either so unfinished that it is unintelligible as a form, or a later hand has finished an unfinished canvas by Constable but misunderstood the structure of the landscape. In fact, the hillock should have a rather steep side, falling off from the top as in the other two versions. Likewise, the line of the hill running down to the right is surely too crude to be by Constable's hand. The area in front of the Salt Box would seem also to be unfinished in the picture, lacking the definition in the Richmond and Winterthur versions, which shows that it too has a steep side and crest, with a road (up which the second cart is toiling) at the bottom. The whole foreground of the Philadelphia landscape is unfinished or finished by a painter who did not understand the artist's original intention. The man wearing a white blouse in the foreground at the right reminds one of similar figures in the landscapes of Richard Wilson (1713-1782) but lacks the vigor of a peasant painted by Constable.

    Both the Winterthur and Richmond pictures are painted on a red ground and are rather more colorful than the Philadelphia version, which has a blanched, even tonality, perhaps consistent with an unfinished canvas. The cloud formations, although identical to those in the other two pictures, have less feeling of sweep and are in general less airy than those in the other two versions.

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 61-63.

    1. Joseph Farington. The Diary of Joseph Farington. [1793-1821]. Edited by Kenneth Garlick and Angus Macintyre (vols. 1-6) and Kathryn Cave (vols. 7-16). New Haven and London, 1978-84. November 2, 1819. See also Graham Reynolds. Catalogue of the Constable Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1960. Rev. ed., London, 1973, no. 171.
    2. For versions of type A, see Graham Reynolds. Catalogue of the Constable Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1960. Rev. ed., London, 1973, pp. 118-19; Leslie Parris. The Tate Gallery Constable Collection. London 1981, p. 114, no. 29.
    3. R. B. Beckett, ed. John Constable’s Correspondence. Ipswich, 1962-68, vol. 4, p. 97.

    William Roberts. Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Formed by John H. McFadden, Esq., of Philadelphia, Pa. London, 1917, p. 7; William Roberts. "The John H. McFadden Collection II: Landscape and Subject Pictures." The Connoisseur, vol. 53 (January 1919), pp. 14, 17, repro. p. 13; Hans Tietze, ed., Masterpieces of European Painting in America (London, 1939 ), p. 236; Martin Davies. National Gallery Catalogues: The British School. 2nd ed., rev. London, 1959, p. 27; A. D. Chegodaev, Constable (in Russian) (Moscow, 1968), pl. 125; William S. Talbot, "John Constable: Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead Heath," Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 61, no. 3 (March 1974), pp. 108, 110 p. 109 fig. 13, p. 115 n. 9; Robert Hoozee. L'Opera completa di Constable. Milan, 1979, no. 690; Graham Reynolds. The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1984, vol. 1, p. 159.