133. John Constable

East Bergholt 1776 – 1837 London

View of Gardens at Hampstead, with an Elder Tree, c. 1821-1822

Constable moved permanently from Suffolk to London in 1817. His wife Maria had delicate health, and from 1819 the family spent their summers in Hampstead to benefit from the cleaner air. Some five miles north of London, Hampstead was still a village at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was here that the artist painted his famous series of cloud studies, but he also made a number of sketches of back lanes and hidden corners. This view was probably painted from the garden or window of 2 Lower Terrace, a cottage on the western side of Hampstead Heath which the artist rented in the summers of 1821 and 1822. The characteristic spontaneity of Constable’s brushwork is evident. The large cumulous cloud was painted quickly, in broad strokes with areas of impasto, while the white umbels of the elder flowers were more delicately rendered in little dabs of paint. Maria died of tuberculosis in 1828, and Constable was greatly affected by her passing. He would later write of the elder bush as “a favourite of mine, but ’tis melancholy; an emblem of death.”1

1R.B. Beckett, John Constable’s Correspondence. III, The Correspondence with C.R. Leslie, R.A., London, 1965, p. 126.