John Constable: Observing the Weather

Documenting the painter's fascination with the weather and its uncanny ability to radically alter a landscape.

During the 1820s John Constable, looking to develop his skills as a landscape painter, began documenting and analysing patterns in the weather. His approach combined scientific method with artistic practice: as well as studying essays on the modification of clouds and atmospheric phenomena he would sketch his real-life observations. 

His favourite locations for research were Hampstead, Salisbury and Dedham Vale where he had access to wide open spaces with large expanses of sky. By documenting these same places at different times of day or in different weather conditions he was able to demonstrate the dramatic effect meteorological changes had on the light and colour of the scene.

These studies – often worked up in haste – were not intended for public display but simply as a reference for his large-scale landscape works. The Lightbox displays them as works of art in their own right, shown alongside the finished paintings that they inspired.

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Constable would often record his thoughts on the back of the studies, for example on Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead he writes: ‘We have had noble clouds and effects of light and dark and colour – as is always the case with such seasons as the present’, while on Cloud Study, Hampstead he describes a 'morning under the sun, clouds silvery grey on warm sultry ground'.


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