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Study of Clouds

John Constable (1776-1837)

1821

O.1970.2

Title Study of Clouds
Object type Painting
Date 1821
Artist/maker John Constable (1776-1837)
Support Paper (Laid Down On Canvas)
Medium Oil Paint
Dimensions h:238 w:330 mm
Accession Lot Agnew's (purchase, 1970)
Accession number O.1970.2

Exhibitions : The Dazzled Eye : Object Label : O.1970.2

Constable’s sky studies are now regarded as an important element of his artistic output; he wrote to his friend John Fisher in October 1821, 'skies must and always shall with me make an effectual part of the composition. It will be difficult to name a class of Landscape in which the sky is not the ‘key note’, the standard of ‘Scale’ and the chief ‘Organ of Sentiment’...The sky is the source of light in nature - and governs every thing'. Constable took lodgings for himself and his growing family near Hampstead Heath in July 1821 and stayed until October. This is one of a series of sky studies dating from this and the following two years. Constable, who never travelled outside the British Isles, has come to be seen as a quintessentially English painter, but his interest in the sky and in atmospheric effects is part of a wider European appreciation of such matters and owes something to developments in science.

Exhibitions : The Dazzled Eye : Object Label : O.1970.2

Constable’s sky studies are now regarded as an important element of his artistic output; he wrote to his friend John Fisher in October 1821, 'skies must and always shall with me make an effectual part of the composition. It will be difficult to name a class of Landscape in which the sky is not the ‘key note’, the standard of ‘Scale’ and the chief ‘Organ of Sentiment’...The sky is the source of light in nature - and governs every thing'. Constable took lodgings for himself and his growing family near Hampstead Heath in July 1821 and stayed until October. This is one of a series of sky studies dating from this and the following two years. Constable, who never travelled outside the British Isles, has come to be seen as a quintessentially English painter, but his interest in the sky and in atmospheric effects is part of a wider European appreciation of such matters and owes something to developments in science.

Unstable States: Ruskin and the Truth of Water

From the elevated vantage point of Hampstead Heath in London, Constable produced numerous paintings of cloudy skies. On the reverse the artist would often provide detailed information about the time of day and the weather conditions under which the observations had been made. Here Constable presents growing cumulus clouds with characteristic white tops, while close by a dark cumulus may be reaching the rain (nimbus) stage. Ruskin wrote in the fifth volume of Modern Painters that as an artist he had never been successful in painting cumulus clouds. He went further by discussing the merits of painting rain and rain clouds, and questioned: 'Is English wet weather ... one of the things which we should desire Art to give perpetuity to?'

Constable's interest in clouds is associated with the developing science of meteorology, though it is not certain that he was aware of Howard's revolutionary new classification of clouds. Surprisingly, given Constable's obsession with painting in front of nature, Ruskin offered scant praise for Constable, though he considered that his landscape paintings were both original and honest.