John Constable, A Study for ‘The Leaping Horse’ (detail), 1824-25. Museum no. 986-1900
Following the fashion for painting mountainous, Romantic scenery, he spent some time in Derbyshire (1801) and the Lake District (1806), but it was only on his return to the quieter, less spectacular countryside of his native Suffolk that he developed his personal style. From 1810 there is an uninterrupted series of drawings and oil sketches painted in the open air and depicting his native countryside in what was an unusually fresh and direct manner.
The Hay Wain is one of a series of paintings by Constable called the “six-footers”, large-scale canvasses which he painted for the annual summer exhibitions at the Royal Academy. As with all of the paintings in this series Constable produced a full-scale oil sketch for the work; this is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Constable originally exhibited the finished work with the title Landscape: Noon, suggesting that he envisaged it as belonging to the classical landscape tradition of representing the cycles of nature. 
Painted in oils on canvas, the work depicts as its central feature three horses pulling what in fact appears to be a wood wain or large farm wagon across the river. Willy Lott’s Cottage, also the subject of an eponymous painting by Constable, is visible on the far left. The scene takes place near Flatford Mill in Suffolk, though since the Stour forms the border of two counties, the left bank is in Suffolk and the landscape on the right bank is in Essex.
John Constable played a crucial role in the rise of landscape painting as an accepted art form within the mainstream and it’s easy to take his career for granted with so many landscape artists now around.
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.
The view is of the millpond at Flatford on the River Stour. Flatford Mill was a watermill for grinding corn, operated by the Constable family for nearly a hundred years. It still survives and is about a mile from Constable’s birthplace at East Bergholt, Suffolk. The house on the left also survives; in Constable’s time it was occupied by tenant farmer Willy Lott.
Although the painting evokes a Suffolk scene, it was created in the artist’s studio in London. Over the years, Constable had made many drawings and oil sketches of Willy Lott’s farmhouse; its red roofs and chimneys, whitewashed walls and brick buttresses appear in several of Constable’s Stour scenes. His earliest oil study of it was probably painted in 1802. When painting The Hay Wain , Constable referred back particularly to three small oil sketches of the house he had made in 1811. The woman stooping over the water from the step outside Lott’s house with a pitcher beside her was retained in the same pose and position in the final picture. Constable made a small preliminary oil sketch showing the hay wagon itself in about 1820 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). This was followed by a full-scale oil sketch to develop the composition (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), which Constable painted quickly with large areas of the brown ground of the canvas left bare. The horse and rider in the foreground of the oil sketch were kept in the final picture but painted out at a late stage.
In keeping with the artist’s love of nature, natural tones are predominant in The Hay wain and there is contrast between the pool of water, the tall delicate trees and the strong brick house to the left.
Use of light:
The Hay Wain represents a near-perfect English summer day and Constable accomplishes this by using natural light and painting realistically from his sketches of the scene. As a young boy Constable often went out “skying”, sketching the clouds and sky to perfect his technique.