Completed British 19th C, except portraits, East of England: Artists and Subjects 28 Further information sought on the artist and location of 'Cottage in a Cornfield (formerly attributed to John Constable)'

Cottage in a Cornfield
Topic: Subject or sitter

Manchester Art Gallery would like to call upon the collective expertise of the Art Detectives.

An interested member of the public has written a detailed account concerning the location of 'Cottage in a Cornfield', formerly attributed to John Constable. The author believes she has pinpointed the viewpoint in Lavenham, Suffolk, from which the painting was composed and has even gone as far as to suggest the painting could still be by John Constable due to the connections involved.

Please see the attached document and let us know if you agree with her conclusion.

A Constable specialist at Tate deemed the work as not by the artist in 2006.

Manchester Art Gallery, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade King,

The painting will now be listed as by Thomas Francis Wainewright (c.1815–1853). The execution date will change to 1853. The title will change to 'Landscape with Cornfield'.

Please also note more accurate birth and death dates were generated as part of the discussion for the artist Thomas Francis Wainewright.

These amends will appear on the new version of the Your Paintings website in January 2016. Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.

27 comments

First of all I would like to thank Lynette Domoney for the huge amount of work she has put in to the attached paper. I think she makes a persuasive case for Lavenham as the potential location of this painting. However, although Constable went to school for a time in Lavenham, I haven't yet been able to find evidence that he painted or sketched there later in life. It would help the progress of this discussion to know a little more about the opinion given to the Collection in 2006 by the Constable expert at the Tate. For instance, was the opinion given on personal examination of the painting or from photographic images? Was an opinion offered as to the date of the work and if not by Constable was the painting considered to be perhaps Studio, Circle or Follower of Constable? I note that the Collection describes the painting as British School which suggests to me that the link to Constable may be rather tenuous. If one can firmly rule out Constable as the painter of this work would it be appropriate to reconsider the issue of the location as without the Constable connection, or follower etc, it may be necessary to broaden the topographical search? In the meantime comments from those with more detailed knowledge of Constable's work would be greatly appreciated.

Lynette Domoney,

Thanks for exposing my paper to expert view. I was glad to see the painting in the flesh for the first time on June 16th, and I also had an opportunity to look at such documents as the Gallery have on file. Here are some additional points. It was first described in the archives as "Landscape with cornfield" and the dimensions are 11 3/4 x 13 7/8 inches. In 1873 it was in the collection of Fuller Maitland and exhibited at the RA that year. It was bequeathed to the Gallery by James Blair in 1917. There is speculation recorded that it was exhibited at the BI (?) in 1818 with the title "Cottage in a cornfield". "Leslie supposed that the same picture was the "Cottage" at the RA the previous year, 1817". But there are cuttings in the same file concerned with the widely-known "Cottage in a cornfield" which exists in two versions, so that completely muddies the waters. The only comment regarding the physical condition was that R.B Beckett noted that it was painted on fine twill like that used by Constable in 1812, and he dated it to that year. I was intrigued to see marks at the left front of the wheatfield, as if made in wet paint by the end of a brush which I would have supposed to be a modern technique. There is no indication that it has ever been subjected to a rigorous scrutiny.

Since I prepared the document I discovered that the later-disgraced wife of Richard Moore, Sydney Arabella Cotton, was related to the Sixth Earl of Dysart, who employed Constable. (Her grandfather, Sir Lynch Cotton, Fourth Baronet, was the Sixth Earl's first cousin.) I have made contact with Lord Tollemache's archivist, but there is no record of the social contacts between these two family members, who lived less than 30 miles apart.

I shall follow the discussion with great interest.

Tim Williams,

The painting is by Thomas Francis Wainewright - it was withdrawn from the 1873 Royal Academy exhibition when Wainewright spotted it being exhibited as a Constable. He stated that he painted the picture in 1853 and the view is near Starcross, Devon.

See attached from The Saturday Review, Feb 8th 1873

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Many thanks to both Lynette and Tim Williams for their comments. Having regard to both the history of the painting 'Landscape with cornfield', as set out by Lynette, and the information in The Saturday Review article of February 8th 1873, I think there can be little doubt that the painting in the Manchester City Galleries collection is by Thomas Francis Wainewright and that it dates to the 1850s. However, some further work may be needed to verify that the subject is indeed Starcross in Devon as the church depicted in the painting does not appear to be that of St Paul in Starcross. Perhaps it is a view from the edge of Starcross to another village nearby? If someone with local knowledge of that part of Devon is able to comment we may be able to pin the location down with greater certainty.

Louis Musgrove,

I can understand how it was considered to be by John Constable. Here in Ipswich we have a fantastic exhibition of lots of small Constables - and a few big ones as part of the ASPIRE project. I have been to the exhibition a few times- can't keep away it's so good- and this painting has exactly the same feel!!!

Tim Williams,

There's probably more information on the incident in the RA archives.

Lynette Domoney,

Can we be certain that the picture withdrawn in 1873 is the same as the one in Manchester? If early curators were sufficiently confused to file information about a completely different "Cottage in a cornfield" might they not also have made wrong assumptions about where this had been exhibited? The idiom and palette appear very different from those images by Thomas Francis Wainewright that I can pull up online.

Starcross is a fishing village on the estuary of the Exe, although if we suppose that Wainewright was staying there he might have painted within several miles radius. I will continue to search for images of this part of Devon, bearing in mind that we know, because of the orientation of the church, that the viewpoint is from the north.

I trust that commentators will have considered my analysis of the topography to the north of Lavenham.

Tim Williams,

I think we can be fairly certain it is the same picture - the description of the picture in the Review is spot on and Fuller Maitland lent fourteen other works to the 1873 RA exhibition. Might the building be a windmill rather than a church? It looks like there might be sails poking out at the sides - it would be logical next to a cornfield.

The painting was withdrawn from the exhibition before the publication of the catalogue - in the attachment of the catalogue page you will see number 30 absent. I would suggest contacting the archivist at the academy to confirm that it is the same picture as their records are extensive and this is the sort of incident that would be jotted down in one of the ledgers.

1 attachment
Sarah Cove,

At first glance, given the size and resolution of the screen image, it does not look anything like a Constable to me. It is a comparatively small and unusual size for such a 'finished' image, if it was by Constable, and it does not resemble Constable's oils sketches at all. I have a huge body of technical data from the examination of over 200 genuine Constables from National and International collections collected over 30 years of detailed research. A fairly rapid preliminary visual and microscopic examination usually me gives sufficient information to make an initial judgement on a likely attribution (or not). There really is little need for all this discussion and conjecture at least in the early stages of attribution.
Sarah Cove ACR, FIIC, FBAPCR
Accredited Paintings Conservator
Founder, The Constable Research Project
http://www.facebook.com/constable.research.project

Sarah Cove,

In addition, regarding the various versions of JC's Cottage in a Cornfield' that were exhibited by JC -one is in the V&A and the much smaller one is in Cardiff. Both were probably begun around 1816-17 as shown by stylistic and technical research but the large V&A picture was re-worked using a different technique and some newly invented pigments prior to exhibition in the 1830s. This is all in the Constable literature and as far as I am aware the waters are not muddy at all.

Osmund Bullock,

Sarah, your input and expertise is invaluable, thank you. But while the Constable aspect is naturally your focus, it is only one part of ours. There is more to conclude (assuming we do) than 'Not Constable': we are seeking, as the title of this thread asks, the correct artist and location. So there certainly is a purpose to "all this discussion and conjecture", and Tim's discovery has given us a very promising lead to follow indeed.

Osmund Bullock,

Tim, it certainly could be a windmill - impossible to tell at this resolution. A higher-res would be helpful - at least of this structure, and preferably of the distant low hills on the left. Without one I doubt we can make any headway topographically.

Osmund Bullock,

From the postcard I think it's just a house roof with chimney stack - or conceivably a chapel with a small bell-tower.

Martin Hopkinson,

Is the 'Cornfield' attributed [rather doubtfully] to the circle of Charles James Lewis, owned by Wigan Arts and Heritage Service, by the same artist?

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, Manchester. The diagonal mentioned by Tim is now clearly visible, running top left to bottom right - and is that a hint of another one crossing it BL to TR? This, together with the structure's bulky top, does perhaps suggest a sketchily-rendered windmill with some sort of associated building. Certainly I think it's hard to interpret it any longer as a church. Devon is not a county noted for its windmills, though there must have been some. But I think it will be difficult to progress this further from a topographical angle.

I don't have a problem with its authorship. Though Wainewright's later, highly finished works have a rather different feel, the background and sky of this earlier oil have much in common: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/thomas-francis-wainewright-cattle-watering-3927636-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=3927636&sid=810429b1-970e-419b-810b-902becc2c89a
And so do elements of this little watercolour: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/thomas-francis-wainewright-egham-church-4866152-details.aspx?from=searchresults&pos=2&intObjectID=4866152&sid=810429b1-970e-419b-810b-902becc2c89a&page=3&lid=1

The only thing to add is that the Starcross area was probably familiar home territory for Wainewright - his four census entries (1851-1881) indicate he was born between 1817 & early 1820 in Exeter, just 8 or 9 miles away. However, no baptism for him is known, and his parentage is uncertain - at his Oct 1846 marriage his age is given as 29, and his (deceased) father's name as Thomas Frengle Wainewright, though no-one of that name seems to be recorded. He is often confused with the infamous Anglo-Australian artist, writer, fraudster and poisoner Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794-1847), who interestingly married in England in 1817 and did have a son...but disappointingly it turns out his name was quite different!

Thomas Francis Wainewright's death year is generally given as 1883, but his UK probate record shows that in fact he died at Boston, USA, on 17th July 1887: this is confirmed by Massachusetts death records, though the age given there (78) seems very wrong. See https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NW3Q-M9Q

We can say with confidence his dates are c1818-1887, while the PCF (like others) has 1794-1883. This will need correcting.

Oliver Perry,

There's an interesting article on him from the New York Times, which says that he emigrated at the age of in 1882 at the age of 73 and died five years later.

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C0CE4DE1230E733A25752C1A9659C946397D6CF

An earlier date of birth would also seem more likey if he was the ""TF Wainewright" of Limehouse Fields exhibited at the Royal Academy as early as 1832.

As for the topography of the painting: am I the only person who reads the cornfield as sloping down to a considerable body of water , with the windmill/tower on the far shore?

Cliff Thornton,

A 6" O.S. Map from the 1880s shows no windmills in the vicinity of Starcross, nor would I expect to find one there, as the low lying land is sheltered from the prevailing winds by the hills to the west.
Could the field of blue, referred to by Oliver. be a field of flax?

Osmund Bullock,

Well, Oliver, that'll teach me not to talk about "with confidence" prematurely! I'll do some more digging when I have a moment. I don't think I do see it as water, but it's food for thought and I could easily be wrong.

Cliff, that's extremely useful. How far from Starcross did you look?

Cliff Thornton,

Oliver, in a radius of 2 miles around Starcross I found only one mill, Cofford Mill, just west of the village of Cofton. You probably know that Starcross lies along the west shore of the estuary of the River Exe. Gazetteers show that this is the only Starcross in England.

Osmund Bullock,

Oliver, on the face of it the birth year implied in the NY Times article for Thos Francis Wainewright (1808-9 - also seemingly confirmed by the age of 78 given in his official Massachusetts 1887 death record) would seem to be supported by the date of his first exhibit at the RA. However, I've finally got to grips with the elusive family history and genealogy, and it looks as if it must have been later (though not quite as late as I previously thought). The exposition is a bit lengthy, my apologies, but is needed (well, most of it!) to explain the background to my reasoning.

TFW appears in all the censuses 1841 to 1881. In 1841 he is apparently with his mother Mary (age 49), his age given as 25 - which normally means 25-29...but since his mother's age is clearly exact, his may be too (i.e. born 1815/16). The other censuses are inconsistent, giving ages for him that imply a birth between 1817/18 & 1819/20 - he tends to get younger as the years progress (not unusual). Exeter is given as his birthplace throughout. At his marriage in Oct 1846 his age is "29" (i.e. b.1816/17). None of the dates, though, approaches the 1808/9 given in America; but bear in mind no family member was present at or after his death (unusually there is nothing in the 'parents' names' column), and the age may have been a guess - perhaps it's the only evidence the NY Times had in 1902.

The Royal Academy listings for Wain(e)wright show two others of the name, 'Mary E.' and 'W.F.', who share addresses with TFW (see https://archive.org/stream/royalacademyofar08grav#page/98/mode/2up ). These turn out to be (a) either his elder sister Mary or his mother, and (b) his younger brother William Friend Wainwright. Mary was baptised at Exeter (St Paul) in Nov 1813; the 1881 Census & his 1887 death record give William a birth date of 1818/19 (and place of St Omer, France). So William was just 16/17 when he first exhibited: that Thomas, too, might have first exhibited at the age of 16/17 seems very plausible. Perhaps their mother taught them to paint. Furthermore, the tradition for youthful art continued in the family: in 1861 the widowed Thomas Francis W's two sons, Thomas Herbert and William Walter, were living with their maternal grandfather in London - their ages were just 13 & 11, yet both are described as 'Artist'.

Thomas Francis and his two siblings were the children of a soldier, Thomas Frende (not Frengle!) Wainwright. He had enlisted, age 14, in 1794 as a Private in the short-lived 104th Regiment of Foot (Manchester Volunteers), been transferred in '95 to the 39th Foot, and worked his way up through them to Quartermaster Serjeant in 1803 after 7 years in the West Indies. On the regiment's return he married, and the next year was commissioned as Quartermaster of the 2nd Battalion. The marriage was childless, and (following his battalion's return from the Peninsular War in 1811) ended in a legal separation in Nov 1812. From 1813 Wainwright was living with his common-law wife, Mary Kemp (who called herself 'Wainwright'), the mother of his three children (these details from his 1830 will, proved in Dec 1832). Late in 1815 he went with his regiment to France as part of the army of occupation, and there he decided to stay. He voluntarily took the half-pay, and settled with his family in the same area, the Pas-de-Calais, where his old regiment was stationed, and where his second son William was born. In 1820 he was granted official French residency, but shortly afterwards the family returned to England. He died twelve years later aged 52 at 14 Edward St, Limehouse, the first address given by the RA for his son Thomas Francis Wainewright.

It seems clear that Mary (bapt Exeter late 1813) was the first child QM Wainwright had with Mary Kemp, and that William was the last (born in France 1818/19). Knowing that in 1813 they were in Exeter, that his next child Thomas Junr was born there, and that he went with his regiment to France late in 1815, I deduce that Thomas Francis Wainewright must have been born between 1814 and 1816. And the apparent lack of a recorded christening in England perhaps indicates that his father was already in France when he was born.

I suggest that a birth year of c1815 would cover it.

Louis Musgrove,

Just to add what I see. A view looking East.A lake to the left of the men in the cornfield-sun glinting off the water. A hay stack with a man on top. To the left of that ,what could be a boat house- and a church in the distance.

Manchester Art Gallery,

After reviewing the comments made in this thread we have decided to make the following changes. We are changing the attribution of the painting to Thomas Francis Wainewright. We are changing the date of execution to 1853. And we are changing the title of the work to "Landscape with Cornfield" as it is referred by all even our own accession register. All we can think is that with the Constable attribution the title got confused at some point in the past.

We were also able to source the letter Wainewright wrote to The Times.

Osmund Bullock,

Well done for digging that out, Manchester. Might I ask what dates of birth and death are you - and indeed the PCF - planning to give for him?