John Mcewen com­ments on The Hay Wain

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting Christopher Brickell -

n 1816, Con­sta­ble—aged 40 and still not a mem­ber of the Royal Academy, that pass­port to artis­tic suc­cess—mar­ried his long-time sweet­heart, Maria Bick­nell, from East Bergholt, where he had also been born and brought up. After the mar­riage, they moved to Lon­don.

To at­tract at­ten­tion to his sub­mis­sions to the Academy’s an­nual sum­mer ex­hi­bi­tions, from 1818, he em­barked on a series of land­scapes large enough to vie with the Old Masters, and par­tic­u­larly with Turner, his con­tem­po­rary, who had al­ready been an aca­demi­cian for 20 years.

‘We found that the scenery of eight or ten of our late friend’s most im­por­tant sub­ject might be en­closed by a cir­cle of a few hun­dred yards at Flat­ford, very near Bergholt,’ wrote his bi­og­ra­pher and friend C. R. Les­lie after an 1840

Ivisit. ‘In the larger com­po­si­tions, such as “The White Horse” and “The Hay Wain”, both from this neigh­bour­hood, he has in­creased the width of the river to great ad­van­tage.’

The pic­ture was well re­ceived when shown at the Academy, most in­flu­en­tially by two French vis­i­tors, one of them the young painter Eugène Delacroix. He was ‘quite stunned’ by its im­pres­sion­is­tic brush­work, which, via its ef­fect on Delacroix and the sen­sa­tion it caused at the 1824 Paris Sa­lon, did in­deed in­flu­ence the French Bar­bizon school of out­door land­scape painters and, dis­tantly, French Im­pres­sion­ism it­self.

To­day, The Hay Wain sym­bol­ises Eng­land as Delacroix’s Lib­erty Lead­ing the Peo­ple does France and its cot­tage, named after Willy Lott, its ten­ant in Con­sta­ble’s time, is ac­cord­ingly a Grade I-listed na­tional Trust shrine.

The Hay Wain, 1821, by John Con­sta­ble (1776–1837), 51in by 73in, The Na­tional Gallery, Lon­don

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