The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London possesses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of paintings and drawings by the English Romantic landscape painter John Constable (1776–1837). This exhibition focuses on the role of the oil sketch in Constable’s artistic practice throughout his entire career, from his apprenticeship to his death at the age of sixty. The presentation highlights the extraordinary full-size oil sketches Constable created in preparation for two of his most iconic exhibition pictures, The Hay Wain (1821) and The Leaping Horse (1825). Like the finished paintings, these sketches were painted on the grand scale of history paintings and measure over six-feet wide. They were recently cleaned, which enables us to see their original colors and tonalities for the first time in living memory. They are displayed side by side with one of the artist’s finished paintings, Hampstead Heath: Branch Hill Pond, and a spectacular selection of Constable’s small oil sketches. There are exquisite watercolors and drawings, which span from painstaking early works to the seemingly effortless later sketches that defined the now-canonical English landscape: the “Constable Country” of Suffolk and Essex, where the artist spent his childhood. In addition, there are views of Brighton, London, and Salisbury.
The oil sketches for The Hay Wain and The Leaping Horse at the center of this exhibition were first loaned to the V&A by Henry Vaughn, an important collector of Constable’s work, and remained there until their bequest in 1900 made them a permanent part of the museum’s collection. The V&A’s collection of oil sketches and other works by Constable grew significantly in the later part of the nineteenth century with further extensive gifts from the artist’s daughter Isabel Constable and daughter-in-law Anna Constable. These donations made the entirety of Constable’s achievement, from rapid pencil drawings to oil sketches and finished paintings, accessible to the public for the first time and significantly enriched our understanding of the artist.
The works in this exhibition provide unique insight into Constable’s artistic practice and attest to the enduring power of England’s foremost landscape painter.
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.