In 2004 Tate was allocated in lieu of inheritance tax an important painting by Constable, A Cornfield c.1817, which relates to the famous painting of the same subject in the National Gallery. This display brings together the two pictures, with some smaller oil sketches and prints, and charts the evolution of The Cornfield, 1826, in the light of recent research into Constable’s working methods and sources.
Tate’s Cornfield picture, painted chiefly on the spot in Suffolk around 1817, was used by Constable in 1825 as the basis of a larger, more elaborate picture suitable for exhibition. Details such as a plough, a boy drinking and two donkeys were added from earlier or new sketches, while the idea of a shepherd dog driving sheep down a lane was probably taken from an engraving. When Constable exhibited the picture at the Royal Academy in 1826, one critic called it ‘a specimen of genuine English scenery’.
The Cornfield was the first work by Constable to enter a public collection, acquired by the National Gallery in 1837. Its accessibility has shaped the way we tend to interpret his work in terms of a sort of nostalgic pastoralism at the expense of other readings.
This display has been devised by Anne Lyles, an authority on Constable.