John Constable RA, Cloud Study, Hampstead, Tree at Right
John Constable RA, Cloud Study, Hampstead, Tree at Right

Cloud Study, Hampstead, Tree at Right, 11 September 1821

John Constable RA (1776 - 1837)

RA Collection: Art

Constable was not attracted to the formality of city parks as he felt that a 'gentleman's park is my aversion. It is not beauty because it is not nature'. To escape these artificially-cultivated spaces he looked to the wilder landscape of Hampstead Heath and the skies above it. In 1821 and 1822 Constable started making direct studies in the open air of cloud formations. These were mostly made from the high ground at Hampstead as this was an ideal observation point. Some sketches show clouds only and others like this show the top of a trees.

Constable developed a great ability to capture the constantly changing forms whilst working in oil paintings in the open air. He wanted his landscapes to be lit consistently with the kind of skies that he painted. Some scholars attribute Constable's interest in clouds to the fact he was a miller’s son and knowing which direction the wind would blow was important in the adjusting of the sails of windmills. However, it is also known that he was interested in scientific advances and he annotated his copy of Foster’s Researches about Atmospheric Phaenomena, 1815. The science of meteorology was being actively pursued at this time, with Luke Howard and Thomas Foster publishing the first systematic classifications of cloud forms.

For Constable ‘nature is never seen, in this climate at least, to greater perfection than at about nine o’clock in the mornings of July and August, when the sun has gained sufficient strength to give splendour to the landscape: “still gemmed with the morning dew”, without its oppressive heat; and it is still more delightful if vegetation has been refreshed with a shower during the night’ (Beckett, Discourses, p.17). The day Constable made this sketch almost perfectly matches his ideal weather conditions: it was painted on an autumn morning and is inscribed on the reverse Hampstead, Sept 11, 1821. 10 to 11 morning under the sun - Clouds silvery grey on warm ground sultry. Light wind to the S.W. fine all day - but rain in the night following.

Further Reading

B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Discourses, Ipswich, Suffolk, 1970

Anne Gray and John Gage, Constable: Impressions of Land, Sea and Sky, exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia, 2006, p.162

Object details

Cloud Study, Hampstead, Tree at Right
John Constable RA (1776 - 1837)
11 September 1821
Object type
Oil on paper laid on board, red ground

241 mm x 299 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Isabel Constable 1888
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