Catalogue entry

N01275 Hampstead Heath with a Rainbow 1836

Oil on canvas, 20×30 (50.8×76.2).

Possibly inscribed by the artist 'J C[...]' bottom left.
Inscribed on the back of the original canvas: ‘Painted by John Constable RA for me W: Geo Jennings 1836’ (transcribed from a photograph taken before relining in 1964). Canvas stamp of T.Brown, High Holborn recorded before relining.
Prov: painted for W.G.Jennings 1836; acquired by the Constable family at an unknown date and bequeathed by Isabel Constable to the National Gallery, as the gift of Maria Louisa, Isabel and Lionel Bicknell Constable, 1888; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1954. Accession N01275.
Exh: Leeds 1913(77); Expo '70, Osaka, 1970(IV-227); English Landscape Painting of the 18th and 19th Centuries, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, and Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, 1970–1(13); Tate Gallery 1971(115); Tate Gallery 1976(334).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.250; Shirley 1937, p.311; Davies 1946, pp.29–30; Chamot 1956, p.261; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Middlesex B (9) No.23; Taylor 1973, p.32; Hoozee 1979, No.558.

As explained in the entry on No.29 above, Constable produced many paintings depicting views over Branch Hill Pond on Hampstead Heath. No.42 is an example of what was there described as type A of his ‘standard’ treatment of the subject; it was also his final treatment of it in any form. The work was painted for his friend the amateur artist W.George Jennings, who exhibited at the R.A. between 1797 and 1806 and at the Society of British Artists in 1830. The earliest reference to him in the Constable correspondence is on 22 May 1826, when the artist told Maria ‘old Mr. Jennings called’ (JCC II, p.430). By 1831 Jennings had acquired the version of Constable's ‘Yarmouth Jetty’ which had belonged to Dr Gooch (see under No.26 above), and in the following year Constable consulted him about the letterpress to English Landscape (JCC IV, p.383). The first mention of Jennings' ‘Hampstead Heath’, No.42, is in Constable's letter of 14 March 1836 to his children's former tutor Charles Boner: ‘I have this year [?painted/?finished]-a picture of a heath for Mr Jennings - and am finishing the Scene in Coleorton Grounds with the Cenotaph1 - or rather I am about such things’ (JCC V, p.197). Jennings spent the months of June, July and August at Richmond and St Albans. From Richmond he wrote to Constable around the beginning of August: ‘I have trespassed on you longer than I wished; but now I have the pleasure of enclosing £50-which I beg you to receive for the Picture, assuring you at the same time how sensible I am to your Kindness in allowing me to possess a most beautiful specimen of your Pencil on such friendly terms. The Picture could not have passed into the hands of any person who would more duly appreciate & highly value it than I shall - in short my Dear Sir I mean to become (if possible?) a Painter from studying it -’ (previously unpublished letter2). The work in question was presumably No.42. A reference in the same letter - ‘Since you were here I have been ill’ -indicates that Constable accepted Jennings' invitation, expressed in his letter of 6 June (JCC V, p.49), to visit him at Richmond: an otherwise unrecorded excursion. Jennings received the picture after his return from St Albans and wrote the following letter (ibid., p.52) to Constable on 13 September:

My dear Sir

Many thanks for sending me the Picture. I am so delighted with it, that I do not know how fully to express my gratification, for it is most admirable - As for the Sky & distance nothing finer was, or ever will be put upon canvass - to use the words of An: Carracci you have ground, not colour, but pure air, they are absolutely aetherial - To the extraordinary power of Art you have added all the Truth of nature & what more can painting accomplish? The foreground is greatly alterd & improved since I saw you, tho I then thought it finished - now it certainly unites more with the distance, the same feeling touch & effect pervade every part - the dewy freshness of the Summer Shower, is as visible there as in the more aerial distance-

I can only assure you my dear Sir, that I shall prize the Picture beyond measure & it will descend as an heir loom to my Family. Accept my most sincere thanks for allowing me to possess such an exquisite specimen of your pencil & believe me ever


Yours most truly

W: Geo: Jennings

83 Guildford St

Sepr-13-1836-

John Constable Esqre R A –

In November Jennings added: ‘Your beautiful Picture now hangs in my Drawing room to the utter anihilation of my own daubs - When the light is favourable it looks better even than on the easel for there the light was too penetrating -’ (JCC V, pp.52–3). Constable was equally pleased, telling his friend George Constable of Arundel on 16 September: ‘I have lately turned out one of my best bits of Heath so fresh - so bright - [?dewy] & sunshiney - that I preferred to any former effort - at about 2 feet 6 painted for a very old friend - an amateur who well knows how to appreciate it for I now see that I shall never be able to paint down to Ignorance. almost all the world is <...>ignorant & Vulgar’ (ibid., p.35; for the last ‘is’ Constable wrote ‘a’ in error).

To the usual ingredients of his Branch Hill Pond composition, Constable added in this final version a double rainbow with, at its foot, a windmill which never existed at that spot (no doubt a nostalgic allusion to childhood scenes). Rainbows figured prominently in his late work and it was while Jennings' picture was still on the easel that Constable, in his third lecture to the Royal Institution on 9 June 1836, spoke of Rubens' use of the phenomenon in terms not dissimilar to those he applied to his own picture: ‘By the Rainbow of Rubens, I do not allude to a particular picture, for Rubens often introduced it; I mean, indeed, more than the rainbow itself, I mean dewy light and freshness, the departing shower, with the exhilaration of the returning sun’ (Leslie 1843, p.143, 1951, p.315).

Although The Gentleman's Magazine for May 1837 reported the recent death ‘At Brashfield [presumably Braishfield] House, Hants, at an advanced age, [of] W.G.Jennings, esq. an amateur landscapepainter of considerable skill’, The Post Office London Directory listed a William George Jennings at 83A Guilford Street (the address from which Jennings wrote in 1836) as late as 1851. Constable's friend would seem either to have had a son or other relation of the same name as himself or else a namesake of similar interests. Either way, No.42 cannot have descended far as a Jennings family heirloom since it was reacquired by the Constable family sometime before 1888, when Isabel bequeathed it to the nation.

1. ‘Cenotaph to the memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds ...’, exhibited at the R.A. 1836; National Gallery, No.1272.

2. Coll. Mrs E. Constable. The letter can be placed between those of 6 June and 12 August published in JCC V, pp.49–50. Jennings refers to leaving Richmond for St Albans ‘in a few days’, while in his first letter from St Albans, dated 12 August, he apologises for not writing ‘a day or two sooner’ because the journey had fatigued him.


Published in:
Leslie Parris, The Tate Gallery Constable Collection, London 1981