A Lost Constable Painting Bought for $37 Has Been Authenticated on Live TV

The tiny landscape could be worth $315,000.

Robert Darvell (left) owner of the Constable painting with antiques dealer and forgeries expert Curtis Dowling (right). Courtesy Curtis Dowling.

In the realm of art discoveries, stories of hidden treasures emerging from unexpected places never fail to captivate the imagination. Take, for instance, the uncovering of 15 John Constable drawings tucked away in a forgotten cupboard in England in 2012. Fast forward to 2019, where school pupils discovered a small painting by Constable hidden in the recesses of a stationary cupboard. This year, another small landscape, acquired by a retired ophthalmic surgeon for £30 ($37) around 13 years ago at an auction in Canterbury, England, has been authenticated after being kept for years in a drawer by the fireplace in their home in Ash, Kent.

The buyer’s son, Rob Darvell, a 45-year-old graphic designer from East London, was told that the painting of a rural scene in Suffolk (the artist’s home county), is in fact a John Constable with an estimated price tag of £250,000 ($315,000). After nine months of meticulous study, TV art and antiques expert Curtis Dowling unveiled the painting’s identity, highlighting its rarity and significance in the realm of the painter’s oeuvre. Dowling broke the news to Darvell live on BBC Breakfast TV, to which Darvell responded, “I’m in a state of shock. This news is everything I was hoping for, and more.”

So, why are works by the English master, which are valued from £300,000 to £1,000,000, left for years in the domestic storage? Understanding Constable’s prolific output sheds light on the sheer volume of work that continues to be discovered. The artist, renowned for his landscapes of the English countryside, produced a multitude of sketches throughout his career, leaving behind a legacy that continues to attract audiences worldwide.

The answer may also lie in the unpredictable nature of art ownership. Whether through oversight, neglect, or a stroke of serendipity, these masterpieces often find themselves tucked away in the most unlikely of places, awaiting rediscovery. As Darvell explained, his father has suspicions that the painting might be valuable after spotting a “faint signature, J Constable, on the back of the frame. He never hung [the painting] and hardly told anybody about it. I believe my step-mum thought it was rubbish and said ‘Don’t be stupid… of course it’s not a Constable… get rid of it!’.”

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