Illustrated companion

This is the full-scale sketch for Constable's 'Hadleigh Castle. The Mouth of the Thames - morning, after a stormy night', exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1829.

There is no precedent in the history of art for the full-size sketches that Constable made for some of his large landscapes. Since they were time consuming, and expensive in paint and canvas they must have fulfilled a real need. They seem to indicate the difficulty of organising into large and elaborate exhibition pictures, the diverse material derived from direct observation that he accumulated for any particular subject. The large sketch enabled him to try out different ideas and move elements of the composition around, although sometimes he got it right first time and the sketch is very close to the finished picture.

The 'Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle" ' may originally have shown less of the scene along the left-hand and bottom edge than appears in the final picture, in which the forms are also more sharply defined and the paint handling less free, more 'finished'. But the main difference between them is in the tonality: the sketch is coldly coloured in blues and whites and has few of the warmer tones of the final painting, which is much more expressive of the sub-title 'morning after a stormy night' whereas in the sketch it is the storm itself which is still strongly suggested.

The restless character of the 'Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle" ' has often been seen as a reflection of Constable's unhappy state of mind after the death in November 1828 of his wife Maria, whose portrait, painted by Constable in 1816 just before they married, speaks powerfully of his feelings for her [Tate Gallery N02655]. In a letter to his brother in December 1828 Constable wrote 'Hourly do I feel the loss of my departed Angel ... I shall never feel again as I have felt - the face of the World is totally changed to me'.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.51