Topic: Painting description

I have seen this painting described as a 'Flash Lock on the Stour’ in a very old magazine. I am researching the history of the Stour navigation and its representation in art.

James Lunn, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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The Collection has commented: 'We have checked our database, and it is listed only as 'Suffolk Scene', so can neither confirm nor deny the description.'

The River Stour rises in east Cambridgeshire and flows into the North Sea at Harwich. For most of its 47 mile course, the river runs on the boundary between the counties of Suffolk and Essex. It is interesting that the painting is listed as 'Suffolk Scene....' as, on the face of it, the view the artist had took in both Suffolk and Essex. Hopefully the village on the bank with the cows grazing will be identifiable even after such a long passage of time.

Robert Finch,

As a guide at National Trust Flatford and having built up some knowledge of John Constables painting I can assure you that this is most certainly NOT the painting that John Constable did which is known as A Lock on the Stour.
It is certainly in the style of Constable but is not a scene that I recognise at all. The cottage is similar to Willy Lotts Cottage, but the setting is wrong for that premises. In the background appears to be a castle, there are no castles on the Stour that I am aware of and in addition I cannot see a lock of any sort either Flash Lock or the more modern (in overall terms) pound lock.
This picture is similar to one I was asked to comment on two or three years ago where a person thought that he had a Constable masterpiece, I was sorry to disillusion him but I made similar remarks about his picture, and have not heard from him since!

The National Trust's Constable 'Flatford Lock' is properly called 'Landscape: Boys Fishing', the title of the painting as exhibited by Constable at the Royal Academy in 1813. It was included in the Tate Gallery's 1976 Constable exhibition as such (cat. no. 118), although the catalogue authors recognised their decision was controversial. In any case, the author of 'Suffolk Scene' is more likely to have used the Lucas print as a source.

Louis Musgrove,

I wonder if this is a genuine "Tom Keating" ???

Jacob Simon,


This discussion is about a canvas of 1870, ‘Suffolk Scene’ by the Suffolk artist, Edward Robert Smythe, apparently purchased for Ipswich in 1939. The discussion was launched by James Lunn who refers to an article describing the picture as a ‘Flash Lock on the Stour’. It would be good if he could post a copy of the article. I understand that a flash lock is a staunch and I suspect that this is not what is depicted here.

The discussion attracted eight contributions in the first five days of its launch in July 2021. Since then silence. From the excellent website https://suffolkartists.co.uk it does not appear that our work was exhibited in the artist’s lifetime. However his brother, Thomas, exhibited a work entitled “Old Lock”. It would be worth asking the collection whether our work is signed by Edward and how the date 1870 is known.

Edward Robert Smythe is strongly represented in East Anglian collections as can be seen from his 20 works on Art UK. They depict rural scenes, some set in Suffolk and Essex. A work described as “Bowden Lock” by Edward Robert Smythe was sold at auction last year, as was a very similar work, “Summer Landscape with Figures on a Barge by a Lock”, by Thomas Smythe. They do not depict our lock.

I fear that it will be difficult to identify our painting through its topographical elements. It could depict the Stour river. Or it could be another river. Or it could be a generic memory of local rivers or even of how Constable painted rivers. I don’t see that the discussion can be taken much further unless contemporary documentation can be found. None is listed on the Suffolk Artists website.

The answer to the discussion question may then be “We don’t know and can’t know whether this painting depicts a lock on the Stour”.

Jacob does not mention my specific association of this composition with Constable's 'A Lock on the Stour' (as titled by Lucas). The details of the lock itself and the general composition owe much to Constable. This is surely well established as Flatford Lock, as in sevaral other works by Constable, Dunthorne, etc.,

It seems to me unlikely this was painted from life as, according to the East Bergholt Association, the lock was rebuilt in a different position in 1838. Constable's works, and this, show the older position. It can be said therefore to represent or at the very least, be heavily dependent on Constable's vision of Flatford Lock. The title, surely a later description rather than a 'title', could be changed to reflect this. Although much of the Stour forms the border of Suffolk and Essex, Flatford is in fact in Suffolk.

Grant Waters will also have informed views on this.

Marcie Doran,

I realize that this is unhelpful but Smythe’s painting at this link shows the same location.



Is that tower on the far bank the Norman tower beside the Church of St Andrew at Bramfield? It just looks like there was an attempt to make it round. Could there have been a lock near that location?



Osmund Bullock,

I tend to support the conclusion that this is not a real view, but a composite of details inspired by other works. I suppose it's possible that 'Lock on the Stour' (or its original) was a source, but if so our artist has either misunderstood what he was copying, or has deliberately reduced the structure in size and function. Neither this one nor the one found by Marcie with similar elements can possibly show real lock gates: there is no room for even a small barge to go anywhere on our side of them. What we see is no more than a sluice gate, allowing variable amounts of water to drain from the river into a carrier or side stream. The extensive view on the river's far side, moreover, is completely wrong in almost every detail for anywhere near Flatford - indeed I can't at the moment see *anywhere* on the Stour with which it could correspond (though my search hasn't been exhaustive).

On which subject, I don't believe that's a castle or tower we see on the other side. Looking at the intro's higher-res detail, and comparing those two squarish shapes on the right (assuming that's what's meant) with the clumps of trees to their left, what I see is just another, but lower double bank of trees leaning slightly to the right, albeit depicted in the most perfunctory way. I cannot otherwise make sense of the numerous little dark, near-vertical lines within the squarish shapes, which seem very similar to those the artist uses to represent trunks and branches among the taller trees.

As Andrew observes, this wooden structure and the general composition have much in common with Constable's 'Flatford Lock' at Anglesley Abbey, but the structures are not identical.

I agree with Osmund that the size of this gate suggests that it's a sluice for discharging water into adjacent land, rather than a lock. If the collection agrees on altering the title, perhaps that should include 'Sluice Gate' rather than 'Lock', as the latter is specifically for raising and lowering boats.

Out of interest, according to the River Stour Trust, a flash lock is so named because it discharges a sudden rush of water that carries small boats through. https://bit.ly/3JiJp68

The perspective is misleading, but in Constable's original and Lucas's print the depiction of two conventional lock gates is clearer. We are looking upstream and the sluice is in the left hand gate and raised by a pulley, more visible on Smythe's version. I have no doubt they are the same locks. See attachment.

However, as everyone has pointed out, the background is different. Smythe was not copying Constable's painting but putting his motif in a new, doubtless invented, generic 'Suffolk' landscape. Thanks to Marcie, whose two further examples of Smythe's work helpfully reinforce this point.

Given Smythe's the lack of interest topographical accuracy, a title such as 'Suffolk Landscape' seems most appropriate.

I've asked the River Stour Trust whether this looks as if it is supposed to be a lock for boats or sluice gate for irrigation, but perhaps James Lunn, who started this discussion, could comment on that please? My enquiry may even have gone to James, who is listed as one of the RST Council's Directors & Trustees, and is (or was in 2021) researching the history of Stour waterways.

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