John Constable RA, Cloud Study: Horizon of Trees

Cloud Study: Horizon of Trees, 27 September 1821

John Constable RA (1776 - 1837)

RA Collection: Art

Constable reduces the landscape of Hampstead Heath to a fringe of tree tops and concentrates on the towering cumulus clouds. He painted on a brown board that is clearly visible through the transparent blues and greys which he applied rapidly.

In 1821 Constable began to make studies of clouds in an attempt to capture their transient energy. This cloud studies is anchored by the inclusion of treetops. Constable made notes on the reverse of such sketches that underline his analytical observation of weather conditions. In this instance he wrote: Noon 27 Sept very bright after rain wind West.

This is one of three sky and landscape studies which Constable made on 27 Sept 1821. The earliest was made at 10am (Yale Center for British Art, B1981.25.152). This sketch is the second made on this day and the third was made at 4pm, Hampstead Heath Looking Towards Harrow I (03/562). There are few comparable examples of an artist studying the same subject under different conditions of light until Monet painted Rouen Cathedral and Haystacks in the 1890s.

The motivation for making these studies was explained by Constable when he wrote to his friend Dr. Fisher. ‘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’ (Becket VI, pp.76-77).

In this sketch Constable worked primarily with transparent paints adding a few opaque colours that were often limited to final application of white. Therefore the ground plays an important role in many places. The translucent colours allow the light to shine through as a reflection from the ground which is a warm brown colour.

Further Reading

R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence VI, The Fishers Vol VI, Ipsiwch, Suffolk,

Graham Reynolds, John Constable, The Later Paintings and Drawings, Yale University Press, London & New Haven, 1984, Text Vol. pp. 82- 83, no. 21.54; Plates Vol. pl. 258

Anne Gray and John Gage, Constable: Impressions of Land, Sea and Sky, exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia, 2006, p.166

Object details

Cloud Study: Horizon of Trees
John Constable RA (1776 - 1837)
27 September 1821
Object type
Oil on paper laid on board, red ground

258 mm x 305 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Isabel Constable 1888

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