Constable did not send a major work to the Academy in 1818, his mind no doubt turned to marriage and fatherhood. He was also still struggling to make the large-scale canvases he wanted to show at the Academy, which turned him down as an Associate in November 1818. From this point on he began to make six-foot sketches in his studio, a unique practice in the history of Western art and one which has marked him out as distinctly ‘modern’ in his approach.
His great paintings in the early 1820s are of incidents in the working life of the River Stour, usually at noon: The White Horse 1819, for example, shows a horse being ferried across the river. It was a critical success and Constable was voted an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1819.
Encouraged by this breakthrough, Constable sought to exhibit a six-foot canvas each year, slowly refining his compositional impact and deepening the drama of time and place. The Hay Wain 1821, with its focus on the hay cart under dense clusters of clouds, evokes a specific midday moment as the vehicle turns towards the distant fields.
View on the Stour near Dedham 1822 marks an important moment in Constable’s development. Major changes were made on the full-scale sketch in the interests of securing a key compositional focus for the design, a process made powerfully evident in the x-ray installation in the last room of this exhibition. Equally significant, from 1822 Constable moved away from the stricter documentary accuracy of his earlier work.