1 of 8
  • John Constable, 'Flatford Mill ('Scene on a Navigable River')' 1816-17
    John Constable
    Flatford Mill ('Scene on a Navigable River') 1816-17
    Oil on canvas
    Bequeathed by Miss Isabel Constable as the gift of Maria Louisa, Isabel and Lionel Bicknell Constable 1888
  • John Constable, 'Study for 'Flatford Mill'' circa 1816
    John Constable
    Study for 'Flatford Mill' circa 1816
    Drawing on paper
    support: 255 x 312 mm
    Purchased 1988
  • John Constable, 'Fen Lane, East Bergholt' ?1817
    John Constable
    Fen Lane, East Bergholt ?1817
    Oil on canvas
    support: 692 x 925 mm
    frame: 911 x 1135 x 105 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), with additional assistance from Sir Edwin and Lady Manton and Tate Members in memory of Leslie Parris, Deputy Keeper British Collection and Senior Research Fellow Collections Division 1974-2000, and from the bequest of Alice Cooper Creed, 2002
  • John Constable, 'A Cornfield' ?1817
    John Constable
    A Cornfield ?1817
    Oil on canvas
    support: 613 x 510 mm
    Accepted by HMGovernment in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2004
  • John Constable
    Dedham Lock and Mill 1820
    Oil on canvas
    unconfirmed: 537 x 762 mm
    Lent by the Board of Trustees of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2001
  • John Constable, 'Dedham Lock and Mill' ?1817
    John Constable
    Dedham Lock and Mill ?1817
    Oil on canvas
    support: 546 x 765 mm
    frame: 800 x 1017 x 114 mm
    Bequeathed by George Salting 1910
  • John Constable, 'Hampstead Heath, with the House Called 'The Salt Box'' circa 1819-20
    John Constable
    Hampstead Heath, with the House Called 'The Salt Box' circa 1819-20
    Oil on canvas
    support: 384 x 670 mm
    frame: 600 x 889 x 95 mm
    Presented by Miss Isabel Constable 1887
  • John Constable, 'Maria Constable with Two of her Children. Verso: Copy after Teniers' circa 1820
    John Constable
    Maria Constable with Two of her Children. Verso: Copy after Teniers circa 1820
    Oil on mahogany
    support: 166 x 221 mm
    frame: 332 x 388 x 80 mm
    Purchased 1984

Constable sought to overcome his artistic problems by making fully worked-up small-scale pictures in the open air. However, a number of these works, for instance Wivenhoe Park 1816–17, were actually exhibited rather than simply acting as studies for more finished works. This practice also helped him to introduce a more realistic sense of sunlight into his pictures which had previously suffered from the ‘bleak’ light of the winter period during which they were painted.

In the summer of 1815 Constable wrote confidently to his fiancée, Maria Bicknell, that ‘I live wholly in the feilds (sic) with the harvest men’. By the end of the year he was working on a larger canvas ‘than I ever did before’, quite possibly a view of Dedham on a six-foot canvas which today lies under his sketch for The White Horse 1819.

Constable put this effort to one side, however, and in 1816 began work on Flatford Mill, working from a pencil tracing which he ‘squared up’ for transfer to a large forty by fifty inch canvas. Much of the detail of this painting was completed outside in front of the view. Throughout the summer Constable was preparing to marry Maria and the wedding took place in London in October, conducted by his friend John Fisher.

The honeymoon at Fisher’s house near Weymouth, Dorset, allowed Constable to produce some medium-scale plein air paintings. Back in London, where he was now settled, he increasingly used pencil and oil sketches made before 1817 as the source for his large exhibition paintings. 

Works on display

John Constable, Flatford Lock from the Mill House c.1814

Oil on canvas

This is another newly discovered painting by Constable. It is modestly sized, with an upright format, and shows how at this period Constable returned to a smaller dimension for exhibition works in order to improve his ‘finish’ and detailing. The feathery foliage of the black poplar trees on the far right suggests he had followed his contemporary Joseph Farington’s recent advice to study Claude Lorrain.

What looks like a square well-head with a bell on a chain in the bottom left corner may be connected with a self-levelling system for locks.

John Constable, Wivenhoe Park, Essex 1816

Oil on canvas
Courtesy the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection

This is one of a pair of pictures commissioned from Constable by Major-General Francis Slater-Rebow, the owner of the house. It seems to have been executed mainly out of doors and would have been the largest plein air work painted by the artist to date. In order to include all the details the Major-General required, Constable added strips of canvas to either side of the canvas as he worked.

John Constable, Study for ‘Flatford Mill’ c.1814–16

Pencil tracing on paper
© Tate

This quite recently discovered pencil tracing, probably made in the summer of 1816, shows the two barges as they are to be found in Constable’s finished painting of this view (below).

It was made by tracing with brush and ink onto a sheet of glass attached to the top of his easel. Following a technique described by Leonardo da Vinci, he attached strings to the four corners of the glass and held them in his mouth to bring the centre of the glass perpendicular to his eye. After drawing the view he then laid a sheet of paper on the glass and traced over the image.

John Constable, Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) 1817

Oil on canvas
© Tate

This painting, the fore-runner of Constable’s great six-foot Stour scenes, shows a view of his father’s mill at Flatford. Corn ground here was taken by barges along the canalised Stour to nearby Mistley and then sent on to London by ship. Returning barges would bring coal and other cargoes.The related drawing (above) was transferred to the canvas by a grid method which allowed accurate scaling up. (For more explanation of Constable’s scaling-up technique, see the interactive screen in the final room of the exhibition). Much of the painting was undertaken out of doors.

John Constable, Fen Lane, East Bergholt c.1817

Oil on canvas
© Tate

Constable married Maria Bicknell in October 1816. In the summer of 1817 while awaiting the birth of the first of seven children, the couple stayed in East Bergholt. This was the last of his long stays in Suffolk as London became the permanent focus of his artistic career. He produced a considerable body of work during this summer.

This view is of the lane Constable walked along to get to school at Dedham as a boy. The church tower is not in reality visible from this exact viewpoint.

John Constable, A Cornfield c.1817

Oil on canvas
© Tate

This plein air study provided Constable with a ready-made format for the finished work of the same title now in the National Gallery, London. This latter picture was painted nearly ten years later, in 1826, when Constable stopped work on a painting of Waterloo Bridge and was looking hurriedly for a subject to exhibit at the Royal Academy that summer. The view is of Fen Lane, a favourite site with personal overtones for Constable (as seen above).

John Constable, Dedham Lock and Mill 1817

Pencil on paper
Courtesy The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Dedham Mill, further upstream from Flatford, was also owned by Constable’s father. This drawing was made on a page of a sketchbook and follows a view abandoned the previous summer (1816) due to very poor weather.

John Constable, Dedham Lock and Mill c.1816–17

Oil on canvas
© Tate

Like many unfinished oil sketches of this period, this work combines an overall breadth of treatment with areas of detailed finish. Much of the foreground is dominated only by primed canvas. It may have been made in 1816 and abandoned due to bad weather, or in 1817.

It seems to have been used as a near same-size study for the version of this subject he painted for exhibition in 1818 (below), perhaps inspiring his later practice of using full-scale sketches for his ‘six-footers’.

John Constable, Dedham Lock and Mill about 1817–18

Oil on canvas
Courtesy David Thomson

This is the prime version of a series of images Constable made of Dedham Mill. It is almost certainly the work he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1818 as Landscape: Breaking up of a shower. Constable worked on this over the winter of 1817-18.

John Constable, Maria Constable with Two of her Children c.1820

Oil on mahogany panel
© Tate

After his marriage to Maria Bicknell in 1816, Constable settled permanently in London where he rented houses in Bloomsbury and Hampstead. This painting shows Maria, probably with their eldest son John Charles and one of their daughters, ‘Minna’.

It is painted on the back of a panel used to copy a work attributed to the Dutch painter David Teniers the Younger, owned by Constable’s supporter Sir George Beaumont. As the painting suggests, Constable, like his wife, was an affectionate and devoted parent.

John Constable, Hampstead Heath, with the House called ‘The Salt Box’ c.1820

Oil on canvas
© Tate

This plein air view looks westwards towards Harrow-on-the-Hill.

Every summer between 1819 and 1826, except in 1824, Constable took a house in Hampstead with his family. In 1827 he settled there permanently, keeping a studio in the West End. As he told his friend John Fisher, the arrangement allowed him to ‘unite a town and country life’.

During Constable’s lifetime Hampstead Heath was a working landscape with sand-diggers and grazing cattle. In 1821 and 1822 Constable painted about a hundred oil sketches of skies over Hampstead. These proved invaluable in the development of his ‘six-footers’ during the 1820s.