John Constable, ‘Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’)’ 1816–7
John Constable
Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) 1816–7

On display until 9 April 2012

During the first decades of the nineteenth century many British landscape artists began sketching in oils in the open air, painting directly from the motif they had selected. In itself, this was not a new practice, since the roots of plein air sketching can be traced back to the seventeenth century, when painters recorded the scenery in and around Rome. What was new was the desire to retain the unconventional qualities of direct observation in the finished works developed afterwards in the studio, or to view the sketches themselves as objects worthy of exhibition.

More than anyone else of his generation, John Constable embraced and came to epitomise this emerging aesthetic. Working in the fields and lanes of his native Suffolk, he not only made countless attentive sketches, but in works like Flatford Mill he defiantly painted much of the image on the spot, afterwards exhibiting it at the Royal Academy with the aim of demonstrating the shortcomings of traditional representations of landscape.

This display has been devised by curator Ian Warrell