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Constable's Salisbury 'six-footer' stays in Britain

— June 2013

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John Constable, 
Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, exhibited 1831. Oil on canvas 
151.8 x 189.9mm. 
Purchased by Tate with assistance from the Aspire partnership (see story for details)

One of the greatest masterpieces of British art, Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831, has been secured for the British public through major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£15.8 million), the Art Fund (£1million), a very substantial donation from The Manton Foundation, and Tate Members.

Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadowsis one of a series of monumental ‘six-footer’ canvases painted by the artist. This was the scale he reserved for his finest compositions, the paintings he wished to make a great impact in the crowded, competitive hang of the RoyalAcademy exhibitions. This work is the most visually spectacular of all the ‘six footers’, the most loaded in meaning and the one of which he was most proud. Constable called it ‘The Great Salisbury’ and wrote ‘I am told I got it to look better than anything I have yet done’. 

The work has been acquired for the special price of £23.1 million with tax concessions, equivalent to an open market sale of £40 million. The acquisition has been made possible through the most generous collaboration of the children of the late Lord Ashton of Hyde and purchased through the London fine art agents Robert Holden Ltd. The painting had previously been on view at The National Gallery on long-term loan since 1983.

The acquisition is part of a ground-breaking new partnership, called Aspire, between five national and regional galleries: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales; the National Galleries of Scotland; Colchester and Ipswich Museums; Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; and Tate Britain. The partnership will enable the work, owned by Tate, to go on almost constant view in partner venues across the UK. It is on view in the Constable room at Tate Britain until the end of the year before being shown at the five national and regional galleries participating in the programme.

Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate said:

Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is one of the great masterpieces of British art.

He thanked the other participants in Aspire for their great efforts to work together to enable the purchase to be made.

Jenny Abramsky, chair, Heritage Lottery Fund, Sandra Niles of the Manton Foundation, Stephen Deuchar, director, the Art Fund and Adrian Green, director, Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, have all expressed great enthusiasm for this joint acquisition.

The Aspire programme is a partnership between five UK institutions, all of which will organize special public programmes highlighting the painting. It will be seen in exhibitions and displays which include the partner venues’ existing collections and reflect the individual context of each site. After the initial five-year period all the partners will continue to have special access to the painting for their exhibitions, while ensuring that this extraordinary work is lent to other institutions so that it can be enjoyed by a wide public.

Each display will be complemented by an education programme which encourages audiences to learn more about this painting and the work of John Constable. The project will establish a national network for Constable Studies to promote exchange and create new opportunities for training and skills development with a particular focus on developing new audiences for heritage through traineeships and the provision of education materials for schools, teachers and families.

An image of the painting and colouring sheet, along with other related activities will be available online on Tate Kids. They will allow children to explore the painting in closer detail.

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