Discover Constable & The Hay Wain

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Discover Constable & The Hay Wain

New exhibition at the National Gallery plus Walk Constable's Hampstead with art historian Estelle Lovatt

As part of the National Gallery’s Bicentenary celebrations, Discover Constable & The Hay Wain, 17 October to 2 February, 2025, will focuss on and explore John Constable’s lush green masterpiece, The Hay Wain, painted in 1821.

This exhibition will look at how the great Romantic Realist artist’s perspective of the English landscape reformed itself from social, political and physical assessment and how much the Old Masters were a huge influence from Michelangelo to Ruisdael, Rubens, van Goyen and Claude. Artworks by William Blake, George Morland and John Linnell will also be included.

The exhibition

  • National Gallery, London, Sunley Room
  • 17 October 2024 – 2 February 2025
  • Admission free


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Walk in Constable's footsteps with Estelle Lovatt

Enjoy an opportunity to walk in Constable’s footsteps as Estelle Lovatt FRSA, art historian, art critic, and professional artists’ mentor, hosts guided walking tours, taking you to where Constable painted his masterpieces in London.

This, is a great complimentary event to the National Gallery’s exhibition, Discover Constable and The Hay Wain, as Estelle follows the great Romantic painter’s late life, to see where he lived, painted, sketched, worked and loved in Hampstead, London NW3. 

The walks take place throughout the year. Details and tickets are available on Estelle’s Eventbrite page, Walk Constable’s Hampstead,


Painting The Hay Wain

Constable painted his masterpiece, The Hay Wain, from drawings and studies he’d sketched over at least a twenty year period, en plein air, in Suffolk.  But even after his move, from here to London, when he studied at the Royal Academy, Constable often returned to the landscape of his youth to sketch his beloved countryside. Capturing and documenting the fleeting momentary weather effects pass amidst transitory effects of daylight, all naturally occurring.

He finished The Hay Wain in his London studio – the backyard shed in the garden of his Hampstead, London NW3, home.

This magnificent “six footer” painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, the same year it was painted, in 1821. Géricault and Delacroix admired it and, although it was quite favourably welcomed by critics saying, it ”approaches nearer to the actual look of rural nature than any modern landscape whatever”, it failed to sell.

The popularity of Constable's work

Constable’s pictures - exceedingly popular today - were not well received in his lifetime, here, in England. But he inspired contemporary French artists from the Barbizon School and Romantic movement. As he gained significant success in France, The Hay Wain got phenomenal approval and praise when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon, and received a gold medal from the King of France, in 1824.

Nowadays, it’s considered a very lovely, traditional, image of the verdant pastoral English countryside. Even Banksy has interpreted it!

Evoking the calm rustle of being outdoors in nature by Willy Lott’s farmhouse along the River Stour, Constable developed full-sized oil paint sketches to enable him to resolve the pictorial composition. 

His sketched studies, alla prima, are much admired. However, early 19th-century gallery-goers found them far too slapdash, radically expressionistic and unfathomably impressionistic, in interpreting the landscape. Today, we value these studies on paper as fascinating and insightful, pre-empting the artist’s working practice. And if Constable felt like it, he’d have no problem adding an invented rainbow - or two, designing elm trees taller than fact, or superficially brightening a horse’s red harness or boy’s waistcoat to best complement the star, principal colour, green.

The scene is about a mile from where Constable was born and spent his childhood, in East Bergholt. The place where, as Constable sympathetically wrote, he valued “The sound of water escaping from Mill dams, elms and willows, old rotten banks, slimy posts & brickwork. I love such things.”

Photo above right: Branch Hill by Cristina Schek

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