We are gearing up for Masterpiece, which opens with the preview next Wednesday. One of the most impressive, if diminutive, pictures we will be exhibiting is a beautiful, vigorously worked sky study by John Constable. Measuring only 7cm by 11cm, oil studies made on this very small size are rare in Constable’s oeuvre and its 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 London 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 was famously fascinated with climactic effects and his careful studies of clouds rank as some of the most iconic images of the nineteenth century. Our unpublished study dates from the 1820s when he was particularly interested in weather. In 1821 Constable wrote to his friend 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.'
This beautiful, intensely felt study is an extraordinary example of Constable’s skies demonstrating his fascination with weather effect, come and see it at Masterpiece London next week.