constable’s painting the hay wain
Originally exhibited under the title ‘Landscape: Noon’, the finished painting was referred to by Constable’s friend Archdeacon Fisher as ‘The Haywain’ as early as February 1821, and this soon became its popular name. A rustic scene of great calm, it shows a harvest wagon crossing a shallow stream near Flatford Mill; on the left is Willy Lott’s cottage, which belonged to Constable’s father and in the sight of which he himself had grown up.
It was at this point that he produced the large sketch, a full scale treatment of the subject but with the details only roughly indicated, the background merely blocked in and the predominant tone provided by the light brown canvas on which it is painted. By contrast, the full scale sketch of ‘The Leaping Horse’ is much more finished in both colour and detail. ‘The Haywain’ sketch really is an intermediary stage between the small sketch at Yale and the final version.
Painting was a way of feeling for Constable. It represents a world view of nature, land and family. It had enormous emotional power to Constable, and to us two centuries later.
On the right a fisherman, half concealed by a bush, stands near his punt while a duck glides by. The ripple and movement of the water is finely indicated, as are the masses of white cloud drifting across the sky, and the darker ones on the left, a sign of an approaching shower.
John Constable finally received official academic acceptance in joining the Royal Academy at the age of 52 after many years of hard toil as a skilled artist involved in a art style that was still struggling for acceptance.
There is also mention of Constable’s other notable paintings plus links to where you can buy your own Haywain prints to hang on your home or office wall.
The cottage in the left of the image was rented by a farmer and stands behind Flatford Mill, owned by Constable’s father. Across the meadow in the distance on the right, a group of haymakers can be seen working.
Although Constable is famous for being one of the first landscape painters to create canvases purely based on nature, he did not paint The Hay Wain on site. Instead he created several sketches in the summer of 1821 and produced the finished oil version in his London studio in the winter of the same year.
Scenes showing a cart going through a ford recur in seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch landscape paintings. Constable admired these works for their depiction of the natural rather than classicising landscape that were fashionable in his day. The 1838 sale of Constable’s pictures that took place after his death included two landscapes by Jan van Goyen, one with travellers in a cart, one with wagons descending a hill. Constable was probably encouraged that Flemish painters had made such unheroic events the subjects of their pictures. He had also studied Rubens’s An Autumn Landscape with a View of Het Steen and admired it greatly. The oddly Flemish appearance of the wagon and the breadth of the composition in The Haywain may owe something to Rubens’s influence. The wagon does not conform to the usual design of hay wagons or carts of Constable’s period – its sides are too low for carting hay and it appears more suited to carrying timber. It is also very close to Rubens’s chalk study of a hay cart for Return from the Harvest (Staatliche Museen, Berlin). However, Constable did not generally copy the work of other artists directly, preferring to pursue a way of painting ’founded on original observation of nature‘.
The small empty boat on the right is based on a study Constable made in 1809 – already used in The White Horse (National Gallery of Art, Washington) in 1819 and later used again in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh) of 1831. It demonstrates Constable’s economy with his source materials, his instinct for local detail and his ability to balance a composition – for small though it is, the boat balances the house on the left and the hay wagon in the centre. The thick red fringes decorating the horses‘ leather collars add a bright note of colour.