This sensitive watercolour was made in 1806 at a moment when Constable was particularly interested in the medium; this unpublished sheet forms part of a sequence of watercolour studies he was making of East Bergholt church at this date.
Constable had been commissioned to produce a design for the frontispiece of: A Select collection of Epitaphs and monumental inscriptions. The result was a drawing of East Bergholt churchyard with three figures contemplating a tombstone inscribed with the concluding lines of Thomas Gray’s Elergy. As has been pointed out, Constable’s time spent drawing in the churchyard in he Summer of 1806 may reflect the presence at the rectory of Maria Bicknell, granddaughter of the incumbent, Dr Rhudde and Constable’s future wife.
In the present watercolour Constable shows the porch and south wall of the church, with the foot of the unfinished west tower on the left of the compostion. Constable’s watercolour is quite different in spirt and conception to the watercolour views he had made of the church the previous summer. In 1805 Constable produced several topographical studies of the church, revelling in the architectural minutiae of the structure, in 1806 his watercolours become noticeably less precise and more concerned with the effects of light and shade. In the present sheet Constable explores the various planes of the wall, producing a careful profile of the complex architecture and then washing it with diffuse lights and shadows. This example of Constable’s handling of watercolour is a rare and important addition to our understaning of his engagement with the medium at a highly important moment.