John Constable

Cloud Study with Verses from Bloomfield


John Constable 1776–1837
Ink on paper
Support: 337 × 213 mm
frame: 560 × 410 × 20 mm
Purchased 1974

Display caption

Born at Honington in Suffolk, Robert Bloomfield (1766-1823) was one of the self-taught ‘peasant poets’ of the nineteenth century. Today his verse is all but forgotten, but in his own time he was very popular. His long poem, The Farmer’s Boy 1800, sold over 25,000 copies in three years.

Constable greatly admired Bloomfield’s verse, and quoted lines from The Farmer’s Boy when he exhibited ploughing and reaping subjects in 1814 and 1817. Here he has transcribed a section from the poem - lines from Winter describing swiftly-moving clouds - and appended an illustration.

Gallery label, February 2004

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Catalogue entry

T01940 Cloud Study with verses from Bloomfield 1830s

Ink, 13 5/8×8 3/4 (33.5×21.1); area of drawing approximately 6×8 3/16 (15.3×21.1).
Watermark: ‘1817’ and an undeciphered maker's name.
Prov: presumably given by Constable to David Lucas, from whose brother Alfred it is said to have been bought by E.E.Leggatt;1 ...; R.B.Beckett by 1956, when exhibited at Manchester; his widow Mrs Norah Beckett 1970; purchased from her executrix by the Tate Gallery with funds from the Gytha Trust 1974. Accession No. T01940.
Exh: Manchester 1956(141); Tate Gallery 1971(41); Tate Gallery 1976(173); Constable's Country, Gainsborough's House, Sudbury 1976(42).
Lit: JCD, p.79; JC:FDC, p.39.

Once thought to be possibly by Constable himself, the verses inscribed below the drawing were identified by Michael Rosenthal in 1973 as lines 245–62 of ‘Winter’ in Robert Bloomfield's The Farmer's Boy (first published 1800). Constable's transcript, which does not depart significantly from the printed text, runs as follows:

With saunt'ring step he climbs the distant stile,
<?And> Whilst all around him wears a placid smile;
<?There> There views the white-rob'd clouds in clusters driven
And all the glorious pageantry of Heaven.
Low - on the utmost boundary of the sight,
The rising vapours catch the silver light;
Thence fancy measurs - as they parting fly,
Which first will throw its shadow on the <sky> <Eye> eye
Passing the source of light; and thence away
Succeeded quick by brighter still than they.
Far yet above these wafted Clouds are seen
(In a remoter sky still more serene)
Others, detach'd in ranges through the Air,
Spotless as snow and countless as they're fair;
Scatter'd imensely wide from east to west, -
The beauteous semblance of a flock at rest.
These to the raptured mind - aloud proclaim
Their mighty shepheard's everlasting name.

Bloomfield appears to have been one of Constable's favourite poets. Other lines from The Farmer's Boy were quoted by him in connection with the ‘Landscape: Ploughing scene in Suffolk’ which he exhibited at the R.A. in 1814 (Private Collection, TG 1976 No.123, H.193) and ‘A Harvest Field: Reapers, Gleaners’ shown at the B.I. in 1817 (untraced: see under TG 1976 No.139).

Although drawn on paper watermarked 1817, No.39 probably dates from the 1830s, when similar ink wash sketches are known to have been made.2

1. According to Beckett in his catalogue of the 1956 Manchester exhibition, where he supplies the same history for David Lucas' annotated copy of Leslie's Life (see JC:FDC, p.53). The latter also belonged to Beckett at that time and is now in the Huntington Library. The volume has a stamped inscription on the cover indicating that it was purchased from Alfred Lucas in 1885: possibly No.39 was also acquired by Leggatt that year.

2. See, for example, V.&A., R.410–11 (on 1829 paper) and Fleming-Williams 1976, Figs 80 (on the back of a letter of 1831) and 81 (dated 1833).

Published in:
Leslie Parris, The Tate Gallery Constable Collection, London 1981

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