A follower of John Constable, Watts exhibited widely as a landscapist but ceased painting around 1860. The charm of this rural scene is enlivened by small yet attentively depicted figures: passersby on the bridge, a wader in the water, a dog at the stream’s edge, and some cows picking their way over the terrain. This painting is thought to have been sent by Watts to the Royal Academy exhibition of 1828. A second version of the subject is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art; a third version is unlocated.
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Little is known about Frederick Waters Watts, often mistakenly called William Watts, a landscape painter and follower of Constable. It seems likely that he is the William Watts who, according to the records of the Royal Academy schools, entered at seventeen in 1817 and won silver medals in 1819, 1820, and 1821. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, the British Institution, and the Society of British Artists before ceasing to paint in about 1860.
Formerly attributed to Constable, this painting was assigned to William Watts by Turner (1913). The Museum formally changed its attribution to Federick Waters Watts in 1935. Reynolds (1984) and Fleming-Williams and Parris (1984) affirmed that the canvas is by F. W. Watts and identified the subject, noting that there is a drawing (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) by Constable of the same bridge inscribed “Hendon 8 Oct. 1820.” A painting by the same hand as that in the Metropolitan Museum and of the same subject but from a more distant viewpoint is in the John G. Johnson Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Fleming-Williams and Parris published a third version (location unknown) that is also a more distant view but without the large tree in the left foreground of the Philadelphia picture.
There is no way of knowing which, if any, of these three pictures was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828 as "An old bridge at Hendon, Middlesex" by F. Watts, though Fleming-Williams and Parris think it was most likely this work. Even if not, the canvas is an early one and may date to about 1828. It is in very fine condition and is marked by the artist’s highly particularizing descriptive technique. The brickwork that is shown at the end of the old bridge in Constable’s 1820 drawing seems to have been shored up and squared off by 1828, as depicted in all three views by Watts. The stumps of trees on the bank to the left and in the middle of the stream are visible in the paintings and the drawing as well.
[2012; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Thomas John Hovell-Thurlow-Cumming-Bruce, 5th Baron Thurlow, Ardleigh Court, Colchester, Essex (sold to Wallis); [Wallis, London, as "View on the River Stour," by Constable]; George A. Hearn, New York (until 1897)
London. Royal Academy. May 5–July 12, 1828, no. 54 (as "An old bridge at Hendon, Middlesex," by F. Watts, possibly this work).
New York. University Club. October 13, 1948–March 20, 1949.
New York. American Federation of Arts. "English Portraits and Landscapes (circulating exhibition)," 1951–52.
Nashville. Fisk University. April 27–June 5, 1961, no catalogue [see letters in archive file for 45.146.1].
Columbia, S.C. Columbia Museum of Art. "Landscape in Art: Origin and Development," January 17–February 26, 1967, no. 41.
Wingate, N.C. Wingate College. "Nineteenth Century," April 28–May 28, 1968, no catalogue.
P[ercy]. M[oore]. Turner. "Pictures of the English School in New York." Burlington Magazine 22 (February 1913), p. 270, pl. IIID, as "Bridge on the Stour".
C. H. Collins Baker. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. June 5, 1933, is "still unable to say that the 'Constable' is not a Constable".
C. H. Collins Baker. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. December 7, 1936, accepts "the prevailing view that Watts painted your Bridge".
Charles Cunningham. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. March 15, 1939, favors an attribution to "James Orrick—the Constable collector who was responsible for painting a good many so-called Constables"; has consulted [W. G.] Constable, who finds the Watts attribution untenable.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 102.
C. A. Brooks. Letter. December 17, 1964, points out the resemblance to the Constable drawing of a bridge inscribed "Hendon", published by Reynolds.
Graham Reynolds. The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable. New Haven, 1984, vol. 1, p. 62.
Ian Fleming-Williams and Leslie Parris. The Discovery of Constable. London, 1984, p. 209, mention it and the one in Philadelphia, and illustrate a third version, taken from yet another angle.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 207, ill.
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 262–63, no. 126, ill. (color).
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Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, London 1775–1851 London)
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