Each summer from 1819 to 1826 (with the exception of 1824) Constable took his family away from the polluted air of London to rented accommodation in the country village of Hampstead, set on higher ground to the north west of the capital, beyond the city limits. Whilst he had at first made the move for his family's health, Hampstead Heath soon became a favourite sketching ground for Constable, as important to his artistic creativity as his own native Suffolk. The low horizon and the magnificent views provided the perfect stage for sketching skies, with their dramatic effects of light and the endlessly mutating cloud formations. In 1826, Constable decided to move there more permanently, taking the lease on a house at no. 6 Well Walk. Hampstead perfectly suited the artist’s needs, affording both a rural landscape for painting and the convenience of proximity to London, as he explained to his friend Fisher in a letter on 28 November that year: "I am three miles from door to door – can have a message in an hour – & I can get always away from the idle callers – and above all see nature – & unite a town & country life".1 From 1824 he was also making periodic trips to Brighton, where his wife Maria was sent on account of her ill health, and this gave him further opportunity to study the effect of changing weather on the clouds and the sky.
It was during this time in Hampstead that he first made a number of sketches of sunsets, something he had hardly done since the few such studies done at East Bergholt in 1812. The present picture can be compared to Hampstead Heath, Looking to Harrow of 1822 (Yale Center for British Art), as well as two later studies painted on or near the coast, Hove Beach of 1824 (Yale Center for British Art) and in particular Shoreham Bay of 1828 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). The latter is also sketched on paper and shows a strong setting sun with elements of storm clouds in the sky.
1. R.B. Beckett, Correspondence of John Constable, Vol. VI, 1968, p. 228.
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