One of the most renowned British Landscape ‘Romantic’ painters of the nineteenth century, John Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was born in East Bergholt in Suffolk, in a well-to-do miller’s family. The major source of inspiration for Constable’s creations was nature, especially the English countryside, Dedham Vale. His works were characterized by brilliant colors as well as rapid brush strokes, rather than the traditional approach of fine brushwork. This he did in order to create the shifts in the atmospheric effects of light and weather. He was particularly happy and fond of capturing his native area, Suffolk, which is also the setting for his most famous painting, “The Hay Wain” (1821). His fondness for the area around his home was reflected in his works and Constable himself said that painting for him was simply reflective of his own feelings.
“The Hay Wain,” measuring 130 cm × 185 cm (51.2″ × 72.8″), is an oil on canvas work. It beautifully depicts a hay wain, a horse driven cart, standing close to the Flatford Mill situated on Suffolk’s River Stour. Since the river borders two counties, the painting shows the scenery of Essex on the right bank and Willy Lott’s Cottage, based in Suffolk, on the left bank of the river. Some hay workers are shown working to the right. The mill depicted in the painting belonged to John’s father, while the cottage on the left was Willy Lott’s (a tenant farmer). Willy Lott’s cottage exists until today and remains unchanged.
Interestingly enough, though the painting depicts a real Sufflock landscape, John painted it in his London studio. “The Hay Wain” is considered the greatest British masterpiece. The beautiful painting caused quite a stir when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1824 and was awarded the gold medal by Charles X of France. Constable’s works in the exhibition became an inspiration for Eugene Delacroix and other new generation Romantic artists from France. More recently, in a 2005 poll organized by the Today program in Britain, “The Hay Wain” was adjudged as Britain’s second best painting. Currently, the painting is on display at London’s National Gallery.
Other beautiful and famous paintings that Constable created include ‘Dedham Vale’ (1802), which again depicted the scenery of his native place and ‘Stonehenge'(1835) a brilliant watercolor painting characterized by a double rainbow and also considered as one of the best watercolors ever created. Although, his artworks are extremely popular now in British Art, Constable, in his lifetime, was not successful financially. In fact, he sold more of his paintings in France than in his own country, England. His most famous painting remains, “The Hay Wain.”