In this marvellous plein-air
sketch, Constable shows the view from Haverstock Hill in Hampstead. A heavily laden coach trundles down the Eton Road, while in the distance, the City of London is crowned by Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. Nearer the viewer and to the right stands a picturesque cottage that once belonged to the Whig politician, writer and journalist Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729).
Constable painted this work between 1827 and 1832 as a preparatory study for two slightly larger oils on canvas. One of these works was exhibited by Constable at the Royal Academy in 1832 and is now at Yale, in the Paul Mellon Center for British Art, while the other was sold at Christie's, London on 26 November 2003 (lot 8). In 1845 the exhibited painting was engraved in mezzotint by David Lucas for a publication called 'English Landscape Scenery.'
Hampstead, positioned just to the north of London, had captivated Constable since his first encounter with the area in 1819. During six out of the following seven years, he and his family spent time there, renting a number of different cottages in the village. Its clean, fresh air was of particular benefit to Constable's wife, Maria, who suffered from ill health, and the artist himself was inspired by the panoramic views and impressive skies seen from it. It was here in Hampstead that he created some of his most avant garde plein-air
work. In 1827, he acquired the lease on No. 6 Well Walk, a 'comfortable little house'1
that was to become his permanent home for the rest of his life. Soon after he moved in, Constable wrote a letter to his great friend John Fisher, in which he proudly describes the magnificent views from the house: 'our little drawing-room commends a view unequalled in Europe - from Westminster Abbey to Gravesend - the doom [sic
] of St. Paul's in the air - realises Michael Angelo's [sic
] idea on seeing that of the Pantheon.2
1. L. Parris and I. Flemming-Williams, Constable, London 1991, p. 32
2. Ibid., p. 473