The Hay Wain
The Haywain by John Constable, is probably one of the most famous of all English paintings. Many a home has a print, but relatively few people know the story behind it.
John Constable was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, England on 11th June 1776. Initially his father, Golding Constable wanted young John to join him is his prosperous corn business. By 1799 however it was obvious that John loved nothing more than drawing, so he was given an allowance to study at the Royal Academy in London. The art world was slow to recognize his talents. Landscapes were not considered very important in his day, so he had to produce a few portraits for his income. He would often spend his Summers in East Anglia, making sketches ready for them to be transformed into his beautiful works when he returned to his home in London. During these early years he created such works as Boatbuilding near Flatford Mill (1814-15) which can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
In 1819 he moved to Hampstead Heath on the outskirts of London. By this time his father had died, so he was more financially secure. He was now producing his best work, including The Haywain in 1821. The work was based on many sketches he had produced, many of which still survive. In 1824 The Haywain was exhibited in Paris, where it won a gold medal. The painting caused a stir amongst the French art critics, who were astonished by its freshness. In his later years he lectured, still trying to popularize landscape painting, but he died in 1837 with none of the fame he now has.
In the Autumn of 1993 we went to East Bergholt in Suffolk to see for ourselves where this great work of art was set. The river bank is now overgrown, but it is easy to imagine the great artist seated with Willy Lott’s Cottage on his left, Flatford Mill on his right and the wonderful Suffolk landscape before him.