When his good friend and patron, Bishop Fisher of Salisbury died in 1825, Constable decided to paint an elegiac work in his memory. He chose to depict the church of St Mary the Virgin at Langham, where Fisher had been rector when Constable met him in 1798. Constable compressed a view of the church with the image of a nearby farmhouse. The picture he called ‘The Glebe Farm’.
Constable depicted the view along a valley with water in the foreground, where a cow is drinking, tall trees to the left and the farmhouse beside the church tower on a hill to the right. He based the farmhouse on a small oil sketch from nature he had made around 1811–15, Church Farm, Langham (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). The sketch does not include Langham Church. Although it has been suggested that the church would have been out of sight behind the farmhouse when viewed from this angle, Anne Lyles has recently shown the author that this is not the case.The image of Glebe Farm was a favourite with Constable, and he painted four versions between 1826 and 1830 (the first version now held by the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and the other three held by the Tate, London).
Constable wrote to the Bishop’s nephew, John Fisher, on 9 September 1829 about his first version of The Glebe Farm 1826–27: ‘My last landscape [is] a cottage scene – with the Church of Langham – the poor bishops first living … It is one of my best – very rich in colour – & fresh and bright – and I have “pacified it” – so that it gains much by that tone & solemnity’ (Beckett VI, pp. 223–24).
This second version of The Glebe Farm once belonged to Constable’s friend and biographer, C.R. Leslie. Leslie told Constable that he liked it so much he did not think it needed another touch, and Constable gave it to him in early 1830 with the foliage, tree trunks and other details ‘unfinished’. Constable had painted in the pitcher beside the pool, but not the country girl who would have been there to fill it and who appears in the third version (Tate, London). The tall thin tree in the foreground is not present in other versions of the subject.
On 8 December 1836 Constable wrote to Leslie: ‘This is one of the pictures on which I rest my little pretensions to futurity’ (Beckett III, p. 144).