200-year-old Constable mystery solved by National Trust experts

By Culture24 Staff Published: 26 January 2010

a photograph of a landscape rural landscape surrounded by a picture frame

(Above) Stour Valley and Dedham Village Current Day. Courtesy National Trust

Experts at the National Trust have solved the 200-year-old mystery of where John Constable painted his famous Stour Valley and Dedham Village scenes.

Changing field boundaries had made the pinpointing of Constable's precise vantage point a tricky prospect since he painted the landscapes in 1814, leaving it as one of the few exact Constable locations left to discover.

Martin Atkinson, the National Trust property manager for East Suffolk and Constable enthusiast, used features from the painting and historic maps of the area from the Suffolk Records Office to narrow down the spot.

"It's great to see where an old master once stood and be inspired by the same views as them," he explained.

"When I discovered that I had worked out the location where Constable painted this particular masterpiece, I couldn't believe it. All the pieces of the jigsaw finally fitted together."

a painting of a rual landscape

(Above) © Constable's Stour Valley and Dedham Village. © Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA

Painted between 1814 and 1815, The Stour Valley and Dedham Village depicts Langham Church, Dedham Church, Fen Bridge and the bend in the River Stour, all of which sit within the picturesque Dedham Vale Area of Natural Beauty.

Martin was able to find the specific point using the East Bergholt Enclosure Map of 1817, which shows how the field boundaries would have been laid out when Constable originally painted the piece.

"Most of Constable's landscapes painted in the Dedham Vale are now known, but questions do remain over some," he said.

"This one in particular had confused us, but once we were able to identify the changes in the landscape, many of which had been made in Constable's lifetime, we were able to solve the mystery."

The Stour Valley and Dedham Village is now housed in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA.