John Constable, A study of clouds and trees, a watercolour over pencil

England, AD 1821

This sketch was probably made at Hampstead, near the house Constable rented during the summer months to escape from the smoke and congestion of London. Constable began to make regular studies of the sky during his first stay at Hampstead in 1819. In 1821, the likely date of this watercolour, this became his primary concern as an artist. He was prompted chiefly by the desire to bring greater truthfulness and variation to the series of large Stour Valley landscapes he was painting each year for the Royal Academy.

In the spring of 1821, Constable exhibited The Hay Wain. One critic made an uncomplimentary remark about the sky, and Constable set about repainting it. The studies he made cannot be traced directly to the picture, but they gave Constable personal experience of the movement and changeability of clouds. Many of his studies are inscribed in detail with the date, the time and the weather conditions. It becomes obvious that it was the days of rough or stormy weather that Constable preferred. Most of these studies are painted in oil on paper; this watercolour is perhaps an experiment, to try and introduce an even greater luminosity to the sky.

The cloud studies taken together became a kind of weather diary. More importantly, they aided Constable's main objective, to express emotion through landscape. He wrote in a letter in 1821: 'The landscape painter who does not make his skies a very material part of his composition neglects to avail himself of one of his greatest aids. It will be difficult to name a class of landscape in which the sky is not the "key note", the "standard of scale" and the chief "organ of sentiment".'

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More information


L. Stainton, British landscape watercolours (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

I. Fleming-Williams, Constable: landscape watercolo (London, Tate Gallery, 1976)


Height: 168.000 mm
Width: 253.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1888-2-15-57


Gift of Miss Isabel Constable


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