john constable the hay wain 1821
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.
In the 18th century there had been a gulf between, on the one hand accurate topographical views, for example those of Paul Sandby, and Romantic or expressive landscape epitomised by J R Cozens. It was Constable’s achievement to combine these two tendencies: he portrayed his native Suffolk and one or two other areas in a manner both more naturalistic than that of any of his predecessors and yet imbued with a deeply Romantic spirit.
The Hay Wain – originally titled Landscape: Noon – is a painting by John Constable, finished in 1821, which depicts a rural scene on the River Stour between the English counties of Suffolk and Essex.   It hangs in the National Gallery in London and is regarded as “Constable’s most famous image”  and one of the greatest and most popular English paintings. 
Sold at the exhibition with three other Constables to the dealer John Arrowsmith, The Hay Wain was brought back to England by another dealer, D. T. White; he sold it to a Mr. Young who resided in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. It was there that the painting came to the attention of the collector Henry Vaughan and the painter Charles Robert Leslie.  On the death of his friend Mr. Young, Vaughan bought the painting from the former’s estate; in 1886 he presented it to the National Gallery in London, where it still hangs today.  In his will Vaughan bequeathed the full-scale oil sketch for The Hay Wain, made with a palette knife, to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum). 
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John Constable is, along with J.M.W. Turner, the pinnacle of English landscape painting. Unlike Turner, who was an ambitious painter who traveled across Europe in search of new landscapes, Constable devoted all his efforts to depict the English countryside, without any artifice or idealization. Today, the area around Dedham Valley, Suffolk (where he painted most of his works) is sometimes called “Constable country. ”
Although the painting evokes a Suffolk scene, it was created in the artist’s studio in London. Working from a number of open-air sketches made over several years, Constable then made a full-size preparatory oil sketch to establish the composition before painting the final picture.
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.
The farm workers are hard at work but seem contended and are surrounded by beautiful scenery. All of these aspects illustrate Constable’s idyllic view of his home county of Suffolk.
The trees and grass encircle the whole composition with relief from the yellow meadows disappearing to the right which help to stop the painting from seeming closed in or too claustrophobic.