Constable sketch found in British Library's archive

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The mystery of a lost sketch by John Constable that left the artistic community puzzled over its whereabouts for more than a century has finally been solved. The British Library will announce today that it has found the artwork buried in its archive along with a number of long-forgotten works and authentic 18th-century documents, including letters by landscape painter J M W Turner.

The discovery of the pencil drawing, entitled Hyam Church and featuring a view of a church in Suffolk, was made as Felicity Myrone, a curator of topography at the Library, leafed through a 13-volume collection in search of maps.

The sketch was found inside George Walter Thornbury's biography of Turner, which had been borrowed countless times.

The biography also contained a series of letters by Turner and various materials from eminent artists of the same era, tucked within its pages.

Because its whereabouts has been unknown, the sketch has never been mentioned in any catalogues of the English painter's work. Scholars lost sight of the drawing after it was sold by Constable's grandson, Eustace, at Christie's in 1896, in a collection of his grandfather's work.

Ms Myrone said: "People knew this sketch existed, but didn't know where it had gone. Since 1896 it has been lost, to some extent. But it has been sitting on British Library soil since 1919.

"It's fantastic to come across enormous collections like this still waiting to be researched in detail. Who knows how many other important drawings and prints remain undiscovered in our collection?"

The Turner biography had been bequeathed to the Library in 1919 by the art collector, John Platt, who had removed every page from his copy and inlaid them into larger sheets, while painstakingly adding sketches and the other material he had collected.

He had inserted the Constable sketch along with a draft manuscript written by the painter at a place in the volume which highlights the rivalry between the two landscape artists - Constable was in the process of self- publishing his set of 22 mezzotints, entitled English Landscape, in an attempt to gain a wider audience following a similar publication by Turner. A draft introduction by Constable was found along with the sketch.

Hundreds of other original artworks and autographs by 18th- and 19th-century artists, writers and art patrons were also found in the biography. Included among them were five letters and a signature by Turner.

There is also an original work by Thomas Girtin, the 18th-century artist of whom Thornbury quotes Turner as saying: "If Tom had lived I should have starved".