113. John Constable

East Bergholt 1776 – 1837 London

Sky Study with a Shaft of Sunlight, 1822(?)

A systematic student of the sky, John Constable produced dozens of oil sketches of clouds and atmospheric phenomena, mostly painted in Hampstead between 1821-22. The artist called these plein air painterly exercises “skying”, and sought to capture the variety of light effects caused by the everchanging English weather. He closely followed developments in the recent science of meteorology, and often annotated his studies with the date, time of day, wind direction, and the scientific nomenclature of the cloud formations depicted. Constable worked quickly, brushing wet into wet, his wooden paint-box open on his knees with a piece of paper pinned to the inside of the lid. Pinholes are clearly visible in the corners of this small study from The Fitzwilliam Museum. In the picture from the National Gallery of Art (cat. 112), the artist left a fingerprint among the clouds clearing at sunset after a storm. Constable kept most of his oil sketches, and both of these works were passed down to his family. He used to say of his studies that he had “no objection to part with the corn, but not with the field that grew it.”1

1Richard and Samuel Redgrave, A Century of Painters of the English School, London, 1866, vol. II, p. 396.