‘I associate my “careless boyhood” to all that lies on the banks of the Stour. They made me a painter (& I am gratefull)’.
John Constable was born on June 11 1776, so a 236-year anniversary seemed a fitting occasion to pick one of his best-known paintings as work of the week. Along with his contemporary JMW Turner, Constable is probably the most well-known English landscape painter and he is celebrated for his depictions of his home county, Suffolk. Flatford Mill belongs to the last time he spent an extended period painting in the landscape of his childhood.
Flatford Mill (the collection of buildings in the left of the painting) was the heart of Constable’s father’s successful corn milling business. As well as two watermills on the River Stour for grinding corn, they also had a dry dock for building the barges to transport the grain. The barges on the river were horse-drawn, but in order to pass under Flatford footbridge, the horses had to be disconnected and the barges poled under the bridge. In this picture, a boy is untying the rope while another sits astride a tow-horse ready to set off and meet the men in the boat on the other side of the bridge - a scene that Constable must have been very familiar with.
In front of the horse you can see Constable’s signature, which he has painted to seem as if it had been scratched in the earth with a stick, emphasising his close identification with this particular stretch of the river. The area remains relatively unchanged, and so strong are the images Constable created of it, it is now often known as Constable Country.
This work is currently on display at Tate Britain in the Turner/Constable room.