Willy Lott’s House by John Constable

The view of Willy Lott’s House by John Constable, £200,000 at Martel Maides.

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Surpassing a £80,000-120,000 estimate, it was knocked down at £200,000 to a private buyer in Guernsey. The 11 ½ x 912in (29 x 24cm) oil on canvas laid on panel depicted the back of Willy Lott’s House in Flatford, Suffolk. It was inscribed with the brush ‘June 1814’.

Research by Constable authority Anne Lyles traced the provenance of the oil sketch back to the 19th century when it was owned by Constable’s grandson, Hugh Golding Constable (1868-1949). He subsequently sold it to dealers Leggatt Brothers and it almost certainly featured in the famous 1899 exhibition at the Cornhill Gallery, the first to be devoted solely to Constable’s work.

Prior to the auction, where it came for sale from a private collection in Guernsey, its location had been unknown for over 40 years. The picture set a house record for a picture at Martel Maides.

Old label on painting

A label on the back of the panel at Martel Maides.

The sketch itself shows the back of a brick-built cottage that still stands in the hamlet of Flatford. Willy Lott was a tenant farmer and – spending only four nights away from the house in his entire life – lived there for over 80 years. In Edwardian times the house became known as Willy Lott’s Cottage, but John Constable knew it as Willy Lott’s House, as it has been renamed today.

When painting in Suffolk in the early part of his career, it was Constable’s regular practice to sketch in the open air. This oil sketch relates closely to a pencil sketch of a Suffolk farmhouse in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter. It is now clear that both drawing and oil sketch actually show Willy Lott’s House, but from an unusual angle at the back.