John Constable - The Hay Wain (1821)
Size: 130.2 cm x 185.40cm
Medium - Oil on canvas
The iconic image of the Hay Wain by John Constable, remains one of the most famous British paintings in history and serves as an important milestone in the development of landscape art. It was originally titled Landscape: Noon.
The Hay Wain captures a pleasant summer day in the English countryside. The scene is based on Constable's childhood home - an area near Flatford Mill, Suffolk where his father owned around 90 acres of farmland, a couple of mills, and controlled profitable navigation rights on the River Stour. The river forms the centerpiece of the painting with a hay cart and two farm workers are seen hanging around. There is also a woman washing and a fisherman. The landscape is beautiful, with the blue skies and large trees.
In the foreground, the shallow stream spreads out to form a crossing, the cart has stopped for the horses to cool down and take a drink. It can be seen that the harness of the horses is decorated with red tassels. On the right of the painting, a fisherman stands, half concealed by a bush. The ripple movements of the water are finely indicated, similar to the masses of white cloud drifting across the sky. The dark clouds on the left, are a sign of an approaching shower. A dog by the bank is barking at the hay cart, adding to the atmosphere of this idyllic rural scene. On the right of the stream, the flat meadows stretch out, golden green in color, with groups of trees casting cool shadows on the grass.
Nearby a full hay wain is waiting to be moved, suggesting that the harvest has been good. The color palette is restrained, being mostly greens and browns. The shade of white has been used sparingly. It is believed that John Constable was inspired by Claude and Rubens and adapted their techniques to the areas he knew so well. He was not a copyist, but created a new style of English landscape painting which by the 1880's overtook other artists in terms of popularity.
His pictures capture an image of rural bliss that still remains, nearly two hundred years later, most people's idea of rural England in the days before industrialization. It is a beautiful piece of art. John Constable, in 1824, sold the Hay Wain and View of the Stour near Dedham to a French dealer who exhibited them at a Paris Salon, which created a flurry of excited activity. The King of France awarded him a gold medal for his Hay Wain that same year. In 1829, he was finally elected a full member of the Royal Academy.