This beautiful, vigorously worked, sky study at sunset was almost certainly made at Hampstead and both Anne Lyles and Conal Shields date this previously unpublished work to the early 1820s. Oil studies made on this very small size are rare in Constable’s oeuvre and its diminutive scale probably accounts for the very careful but bold drawing with the brush. Before Constable moved to Hampstead permanently in 1827 he rented a house for the summer there almost annually from 1819; initially for the health of his wife and children. He soon came to appreciate the elevated and picturesquely situated village for its artistic potential as well as for its convenience to his house in Charlotte Street, ‘three miles from door to door – can have a message in an hour - & I can get always away from idle callers – and above all see nature’ Constable rented a number of different houses over the years and, as Leslie Parris noted, the location had a bearing on his work. In 1821 and 1822 the house was in Lower Terrace which overlooks West Heath: our study was evidently made from an upper window of the house. Given the date of this study and the location of the house it is probable that, as is the case of a number of studies of this moment, it shows a view looking in the direction of Harrow. In 1821 Constable wrote to John Fisher on his responsiveness to rain and stormy weather: ‘I have likewise made many skies and effects – for I wish it could be said of me as Fuselli says of Rembrandt, “he followed nature in her calmest abodes and could pluck a flower on every hedge – yet he was born to cast a steadfast eye on the bolder phenomena of nature”. We have had noble clouds & effects of light & dark & colour’
The feathery handling of the tree-line is a characteristic motif in his work at this period. Examples of this device are found in the oil study Cloud study with tree tops and buildings, dated 10 September 1821 (Thomson collection, Toronto), Hampstead Heath looking towards Harrow (Reynolds, 22.42, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection) and Cloud study with trees, 1821 (Reynolds 21.53, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection ) and Clouds over a Landscape with a tall Tree (Reynolds 21.123, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection) which also shares the same palette and staccato handling of the paint seen in the present work.
The palette and handling of the sky may be compared with oil studies such as Branch Hill Pond: Evening (Reynolds 22.56, Victoria & Albert Museum), Sketch at Hampstead: Evening (Reynolds 20.82, Victoria & Albert Museum) and Hove Beach (Reynolds 24.61, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection).