The iconic image of The Hay Wain by John Constable remains one of the most famous British paintings in history and also serves as an important milestone in the development of landscape art.
This famous piece from 1821 was originally titled, Landscape: Noon. Upon its unveiling, The Hay Wain was well received across Europe, helping to boost the reputation of the artist right across the continent. British art had long been living in the shadows of artists from France and Italy, and this was now the time for artists from the UK to gain recognition for their work. For the painting to be praised by Théodore Géricault, one of the most talented members of the French Romanticist movement, was a huge honour for this Suffolk-born painter. The artwork now resides in the National Gallery, London and was recently voted the second most popular British painting in history in a major BBC poll. The calm scene in front of us depicts the River Stour which meanders gracefully between the English counties of Essex and his native Suffolk.
The artist produced a series of paintings which covered huge canvases, and these would become known as his "six-footers". The Hay Wain was one of those and it's precise dimensions were 185.4cm wide, by 130.2cm tall. It was produced entirely in oils, though there would have been other mediums used in the preparation stages, such as with study drawings, as well as initial layout planning on the canvas itself. Some elements of the scene would have been particularly familiar to the artist, and easy to deliver, such as the sky, whilst other elements were entirely unique to the location of this painting. It is the house to the left as well as the large farm wagon in the middle of the river that are the most memorable elements of this composition. It is those which help us to identify this painting so quickly. Without the specific architecture of the house, plus the style of farming equipment, it would be actually fairly difficult to actually date the scene. The river itself remains very much the same today, with Suffolk remaining a fairly rural region within the UK.
Certain elements of this composition have been identified by various periods of research over the past few centuries. From the origins of the painting’s new name, to the owner of the famous house which sits to the left of this scene. It is most likely that the new title was suggested by Archdeacon Fisher, a friend of the artist, in around February 1821. The cottage owner has been identified as Willy Lott and Constable himself knew this location well. To have grown up in such a picturesque spot, it is hardly surprising that he would go on to become such a passionate landscape painter. He would also bring a global attention to the specific region of Suffolk, in England's East Anglia.
In one way, the artist was preparing for this painting all his life. He would produce sketches from a young age of various spots in and around the cottage, getting to know the building itself as well as the surrounding nature. Some of these have survived to the present day and also help us to get a clearer idea of just how the artist developed his style over the decades. When planning The Hay Wain, he would refer back to many of these drawings and use them as a basis for preparation, rather than creating a whole new series of sketches. This timeless location would have appeared near identical to him, even a decade or two later. The next stage would have been a number of quick oil paintings that loosely set out this painting, but without using the level of detail that was found in the finished painting. He'd also need to scale up these small paintings into the later six-footer which was not always as simple as just making everything larger by an equal factor.
The completed artwork made use of such a high level of detail, right across the canvas, that it’s style can be considered fairly traditional, whilst other pieces were more modern and left a style more close to the Romanticist art movement. There are more detailed images of the artwork within this page tat should help you to appreciate the artwork. There is also an insightful video included too which is well worth a look. In order to truly appreciate the qualities of this painting, though, you will have to visit it in person at the National Gallery in the Uk capital, London. It sits alongside an astonishing collection of paintings from some of the greatest names in European art, with a focus on art prior to the 1950s.
The Haywain by John Constable is a British landscape oil painting which remains his best known and finest work. This page is devoted to this famous painting and offers information on it as well as coverage of the artist's career in general as well. 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. John Constable and JMW Turner are the two finest artists of their era and were also fundamental to promoting landscape painting as well as British art in general which previously has been overshadowed by painters from Northern European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, plus of course Italy who inspired the Renaissance.
The Haywain itself was created by John Constable in 1821 at the height of his skills and experience. It is a crying shaming that he was to pass away at only 60, just 16 years after he produced The Haywain when surely any further years would likely have included many more classic British landscape paintings. Within the career that he did have, though, there is a great list of extraordinary paintings and preparatory sketches still remaining that make his career considerable in depth and quality alike. John Constable was sadly another example of an artist whose paintings were only truly valuable after his death and as such he could never be considered a rich man, despite the skills that he possessed as well as the popularity of his paintings even today.
It is very typical for artists that challenge artistic norms of their era to fail to achieve financial reward for their work and only future generations to understand and accept their work in the way it deserves. 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. It seems incredible in the modern era that landscape painting ever struggled for acceptance but this was very much the case for artist John Constable who was up against the more accepted artist topics of religious scenes and commission-based portraits of rich noblemen and families. Haywain will always remain the best art work from Constable's career and the best place to start for those looking to study and understand his techniques and achievements. Other titles such as Dedham Vale are equally skilled but have never managed to obtain the same level of exposure.
Within art most successful artists try out many different combinations of art mediums and styles within their career as they develop and seek new avenues of inspiration and creativity. There can be no doubt that Constable had this same creativity by taking on accepted artistic norms of the time and promoting landscape painting as an art form to be respected almost single handedly during his era as a prominent painter. Despite this innovation he never swayed from a consistent approach to oil on canvas landscape paintings, even based in the same general location of Suffolk in the South East of England. The success of John Constable is shown with the prominence of his paintings even today within only the finest galleries of the United Kingdom where he produced his exceptional art, plus also the extraordinary prices which are attributed to his paintings within auctions on the rare occasions that they come up for sale.
The British people are fundamentally proud of their green rural landscapes and no other artist has done more to promote them than John Constable who also laid the foundations for many international landscape artists that followed. 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. With any artist who pushes boundaries and challenges the norm within art, it is important to see which artists were their own inspiration.For John Constable it is generally accepted that those who had the most influence on his career and chosen genre included Thomas Gainsborough, Annibale Carracci, Claude Lorrain, Peter Paul Rubens and Jacob van Ruisdael.
List of Famous John Constable Paintings
John Constable produced an exceptional career of landscape paintings, and The Haywain is far from his only notable art work. See below for a list of the most famous paintings by John Constable.
Landscape: Ploughing Scene in Suffolk
Boat-building near Flatford Mill
Golding Constable's Flower Garden
Golding Constable's Kitchen Garden
Portrait of Maria Bicknell, Mrs. John Constable
Wivenhoe Park, Essex
Flatford Mill (original title Scene on a Navigable River
The White Horse
The Hay Wain
View on the Stour near Dedham
Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds
Seascape Study with Rain Clouds
The Leaping Horse
Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows
The Valley Farm
Arundel Mill and Castle
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.