Constable made full-size sketches like this for many of his six-foot paintings. They allowed him to explore his ideas before committing them to the final canvas. The finished picture in this case was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1829.
The composition originated in a minute drawing Constable made on a visit to the ruins of Hadleigh Castle in Essex in 1814, but this painting was not developed until around the time of his wife’s death in 1828. The resulting image of loneliness and decay is now often seen as exemplifying his desolate state of mind at the time.