Rare Constable portrait acquired by the Scottish National Gallery from Lucien Freud's estate

By Adela Ryle | 29 October 2013

A rare portrait by landscape painter John Constable has been acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland from the estate of the artist Lucian Freud.

Constable's painting 'Portrait of Laura Moubray', of a young woman in profile against a dark background.
Portrait of Laura Moubray (1808). John Constable, Oil on canvas.© The Scottish National Gallery
The painting, Portrait of Laura Moubray, entered the collection through the Government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme and is one of only about 50 surviving Constable portraits. It will join two other examples of the artist’s work: the famous landscape The Vale of Dedham completed in1828 and a small sketch, On the Stour, from 1830.

Constable is predominantly renowned for intricate paintings of the countryside surrounding his home. He found portraiture dull and regarded it simply as a way to make ends meet. But in his images of friends and family he excelled in capturing personality, conveying an intimacy that feels poignantly sincere.

Freud, who died in 2011, was a great admirer of Constable’s portraits, describing him as “an incredibly emotive painter, in the true sense of the word.” To use a phrase with which Freud described his own work, Constable painted his subjects as they “happened to be”, taking the same approach as he did with his beloved landscapes.

In 2002 Freud curated the exhibition John Constable: Le Choix de Lucien Freud at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, giving the portraits centre stage. A few of his own paintings, which are considered some of the most influential works of the 20th century, were displayed along side.

Some of his paintings, including the famous Two Men (1988), are also featured in the Scottish National Gallery. One of Freud’s favourite galleries, it houses portraits by other major English artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence.

It can be difficult to truly see Constable’s paintings because, as Freud himself pointed out, they are on “table mats and beer coasters” all over the country. His most famous landscapes have become especially over-familiar. Constable’s portraits provide a way to appreciate this great artist in a fresh light.

“We are absolutely thrilled to receive this charming and intriguing picture,” said Michael Clarke, Director of the Scottish National Gallery. “Lucian Freud had a very discerning eye and now our own public will also be able to appreciate the qualities Freud found in Constables rare and unusual portraits.”

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