Lot 54
  • 54

John Constable R.A.

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • John Constable
  • Cloud Study

  • oil on board


Bought from Agnew's London, by 1956 and thence by descent

Catalogue Note

'The sky is the source of light in nature and governs everything.'[1]

During the summer and autumn of 1821 and 1822 Constable made a concerted effort to paint studies of clouds. In 1821 he wrote to his great friend the Rev. John Fisher, 'I have done a good deal of skying - I am determined to conquer all difficulties... That landscape painter who does not make skies a very material part of the composition - neglects to avail himself of one of his greatest aids.' [2] When Constable wrote these words he was responding to criticism, relayed to him by Fisher in a previous letter, of the overdominant sky in Stratford Mill. He was obviously aware of the problems posed by painting the sky and this led to the astonishing group of sensitive cloud studies which he sketched whilst living in Hampstead between 1821 and 1822.

Constable undoubtedly had a practical knowledge of the sky and clouds dating from his early days as a miller's son, but he also took great pains to absorb contemporary scientific knowledge. He owned and annotated a copy of Thomas Forster's Researches About Atmospheric Phenomenon, published in 1813. The precise identity of the clouds in this work have been identified as 'towers of cumulus' by Dr John Thornes.

Constable's studies can be seen as a faithful record of the weather at the time and the results, including the present work, are remarkable when one considers how quickly the cloud formations were changing. Moreover those recorded cloud studies known today demonstrate that Constable was fascinated by meteorological observation and succeeded in depicting all sorts of varieties of cloud types, the direction of their movement, and above all their three dimensional form. Conal Shields has kindly pointed out that this study is most clearly comparable to Hampstead Heath, looking over towards Harrow (Royal Academy of Arts, London) which Constable painted on the afternoon of the 27th September 1821.

Constable's cloud studies were apparently never specifically used for any of his finished pictures, but many of his later exhibited works show the clear benefits of this intensive study. Furthermore, the medium upon which he chose to work often varied between carefully selected sheets of paper of a similar size, to boards of various composition and size. A report by Peter Bower on the board used for this painting is available upon request. We would like to thank Graham Reynolds for confirming the attribution of this cloud study. Only recently brought to the attention of academics this painting makes an exciting contribution to the canon of Constable's distinctive and greatly admired studies of clouds.

[1] J Constable to Rev John Fisher, 23rd September 1821.
[2] J Constable to Rev John Fisher, 23rd October 1821.