Meet Tate's newest acquisition! John Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows has been secured for the British public and will be displayed at Tate Britain

  • John Constable Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831
    John Constable, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831

Salisbury was an important place for John Constable. It was the home of his patron, Bishop Fisher and his nephew - the artist’s great friend and adviser - John Fisher. The cathedral at Salisbury came to inspire some of Constable’s most moving landscapes and there are a few clues in this particular painting that give away Constable’s passion for the place: from the tall spire that pierces a turbulent sky and rises to a patch of blue, to shards of sunlight that reach the horizon and a pale rainbow that bisects the murky rural landscape.

An earlier oil study - notably, without the rainbow - was made during one of Constable’s last two visits to the city in 1829 ahead of this final and most brooding of his images of the cathedral. It seems he’d discussed the subject of his next picture with John Fisher, who wrote in a letter to him on 9 August 1829: ‘I am quite sure the “Church under a cloud” is the best subject you can take. It will be an amazing advantage to go every day & look afresh at your materials drawn from nature herself’.

John Constable, 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows' ?1829
John Constable
Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows ?1829
Oil on canvas
support: 365 x 511 mm
frame: 579 x 728 x 103 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900

It was one of a series of monumental ‘six-footer’ canvases - a scale that Constable kept for his best compositions, the paintings he hoped would make a big impact in the crowded walls of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, where the work was first exhibited in 1831. He called this work ‘The Great Salisbury’ and said of it: ‘I am told I got it to look better than anything I have yet done’.

Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, described the acquisition as ‘one of the great masterpieces of British art.’ The painting was secured through major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, a donation from The Manton Foundation and the support of Tate Members. Had it not been acquired by Tate, the work was at risk of being sold abroad.

Belonging to a private collection and on loan to the National Gallery since 1983, the painting will now be displayed at Tate Britain before touring to four partner venues around the UK next year, as part of a new partnership called Aspire. It will visit National Museum Wales in 2014, Colchester and Ipswich Museum in 2015, Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in 2016 and the National Galleries of Scotland in 2017.

So far, reactions to the acquisition have been largely positive - although it seems some of you aren’t sure about that ‘rainbow smudge’, as one our Facebook fans, Laura Haferd, dubbed it on our page. What do you think of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows

We can’t help but feel that with this week’s wet, wet, wet forecast, a rainbow would be most welcome.  

What the press are saying