A masterpiece by John Constable has been saved from sale to an overseas collector after a group of public bodies and galleries bought the work for £23.1m.
“Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows” was painted by the artist in 1831 – a year after the death of his wife – and had been on loan to the National Gallery from a private collection since 1983.
On a six-feet-wide canvas, the oil painting was executed on a monumental scale to make a mark in the competitive forum of the Royal Academy exhibitions, where canvases were hung close to one another.
It shows the cathedral from the River Avon, and a rainbow piercing the dark clouds that loom above it. The work was bought using grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, a donation from The Manton Foundation and funding from Tate members.
Constable regarded it as one of his best large-scale works, referring to it as “The Great Salisbury” and writing: “I am told I got it to look better than anything I have yet done.”
Sir Nicholas Serota, Tate director, said: “ ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ is one of the great masterpieces of British art. I am extremely grateful to the owners who have worked with us while we have raised the funds to ensure the painting remains in the UK.”
The painting will be shown at London’s Tate Britain until the end of this year, when it will travel to four galleries and museums that have formed Aspire, a partnership with the Tate: National Museum Wales; Colchester and Ipswich Museums; Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; and the National Galleries of Scotland.