- Museum number
Stonehenge; circle of vast stones, many in foreground lying on ground, two figures sit on one such stone, arc of rainbow in sky to left amidst stormy clouds
Watercolour with graphite and black chalk, squared for transfer
- Production date
Height: 168 millimetres
Width: 249 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Stainton 1985
In his later years Constable became increasingly obsessed with the idea of the past, which he found awe-inspiring and melancholy. The last works that he exhibited in his lifetime (at the Royal Academy in 1836, the year before his death) had for their theme the passage of time; one was 'The Cenotaph' (National Gallery), a memorial both to Reynolds and, for Constable, to Sir George Beaumont, the patron who had erected it; the other a watercolour of 'Stonehenge' (Victoria and Albert Museum), for which this drawing is a preparatory study. On his only recorded visit to Stonehenge, in July 1820, he made a sketch which he used in 1835 as the basis for the finished watercolour. The present intermediate study shows Constable in the process of transforming his original straightforward record into the dramatic watercolour exhibited in 1836 with a text reflecting Constable's consciousness of the phenomenon of time: "The mysterious monument. . ., standing remote on a bare and boundless heath, as much unconnected with the events of the past as it is with the uses of the present, carries you back beyond all historical records into the obscurity of a totally unknown period". As in many of his late works, he included a double rainbow - a symbol of the Resurrection - which in its transience contrasts with the permanence of the stones.
The following entry appeared in the Explore section of the BM website until September 2015:
'The mysterious monument'
Constable visited Stonehenge in July 1820, where he made a sketch that was eventually worked up into a large finished watercolour for his last exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1836. This watercolour represents a middle stage in the process - it is squared for transfer to a larger sheet. The finished work (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) was captioned: 'the mysterious monument... standing remote on a bare and boundless heath, as much unconnected with the events of the past as it is with the uses of the present, carries you back beyond all historical records into the obscurity of a totally unknown period'.
The double rainbow was a recurrent motif in Constable's later works, but Constable wavered on its symbolic meaning. Sometimes he picked out specific symbols in his work (seeing a ruin, for example, as himself after the death of his wife), but at other times the nature that he observed was simply nature - a rainbow meaning no more than 'the exhilaration of the returning sun'.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1958 Apr, BM, Eight centuries of landscape ... water-colours, case 2
1972, Oct, BM, The Art of Drawing, no.331
1985, BM, British Landscape Watercolours 1600-1860, no.109
1987 Sep-Oct, Southampton AG, Visions of Stonehenge, no. 39
1990 April-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D (no cat.)
1991 Jan-Mar, Cleveland MA, Ohio, BM English Watercolours, no. 52
1991 Mar-June, N Carolina MA, BM English Watercolours, no. 52
2020-2021 19 Sep-28 Feb, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 'John Constable and the Netherlands'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
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