The Lock (Constable)

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The Lock
John Constable - The Lock.jpg
Artist John Constable
Year 1824 (1824)
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 121 cm × 140 cm (47.5 in × 56 in)

The Lock is an oil painting by English artist John Constable, finished in 1824. It depicts a rural scene on the River Stour in Suffolk, one of six paintings within the Stour series. It was auctioned for £22,441,250 at Christie's in London on 3 July 2012.[1]


The Lock is painted in oil on canvas. It depicts a working rural scene from Suffolk, as a figure struggles to open a canal gate at Dedham Lock near Flatford Mill in Suffolk, to allow a lighter barge to progress on the River Stour,[2] set under a towering tree and a dramatic, cloud-filled sky.[3]


The Lock is the fifth of six paintings that make up the Stour series of large-scale rural works, that Constable exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1819 and 1825. The painting is the only one of the series which remains in private hands, with the more famous The Hay Wain in the National Gallery, London.[4][3]

After its exhibition in 1824, The Morning Post commented: "Mr Constable contributes a landscape composition which for depth, sparkling light, freshness and vigorous effect exceeds any of his works."[4]

On the opening day of the exhibition, James Morrison (1789-1857) an inn-keeper's son from Balham Hill, London, and Basildon Park, Berkshire, acquired the painting for 150 guineas. Its ownership then progressed down through his family:

  • Grandson, Colonel James Archibald Morrison (1873-1934), at Basildon Park
  • His daughter Mary, wife of Major John Dent-Brocklehurst of Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire
  • The Trustees of the Walter Morrison Picture Settlement

On 14 November 1990 it was bought as lot No.128 for £10,780,000 at Sotheby's auction in London, by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his wife Carmen "Tita" Thyssen. This set a record for a British work of art, which it held until 2006 when a view of Venice by J. M. W. Turner, Constable's rival, sold for £20.5m at Christie's in New York.[4] From 1992, the couple placed the painting on loan to their museum, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, Spain.[4] It was part of the Baroness's personal collection rather than the main collection.

In light of "a lack of liquid funds",[5] the Baroness decided in 2011 to sell the painting. It was auctioned for £22,441,250 at Christie's in London on 3 July, 2012, following a low estimate of £20million,[2][3] making it the joint fourth on the list of most-expensive Old Masters.[6] Museum trustee Sir Norman Rosenthal resigned in protest at the sale, saying that the decision to sell represented ".. a moral shame on the part of all those concerned, most especially on the part of Tita"[1]


  1. ^ a b "Constable painting The Lock sells for £22.4m". BBC Online. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Scott Reyburn (May 29, 2012). "Constable’s ‘The Lock’ May Sell for $39 Million at Christie’s". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2012-07-01. 
  3. ^ a b c "Constable's "Lock" for sale, seen worth $30-40 million". Reuters. May 29, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-01. 
  4. ^ a b c d Michael Brown, Art Correspondent (30 June 2012). "John Constable's The Lock to be sold at auction". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-07-01. 
  5. ^ "Art expert quits museum in fury at £25m Constable sale". Daily Mail. 30 June 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-01. 
  6. ^ Constable painting The Lock sells for £22.4m" at

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