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Overview

A pleasant sense of ease and harmony pervades this landscape of almost photographic clarity. The large areas of brilliant sunshine and cool shade, the rambling line of the fence, and the beautiful balance of trees, meadow, and river are evidence of the artist's creative synthesis of the actual site. The precision of Constable's brushwork, seen in the animals, birds, and people, lends importance to these smaller details.

Constable was a native of Suffolk, the county just north of Essex. His deep, consuming attachment to the landscape of this rural area is a constant factor in his works. His studies and sketchbooks reveal his complete absorption in the pictorial elements of his native countryside: the movement of cloud masses, the feel of the lowlands crossed by rivers and streams, and the dramatic play of light over all.

The commission for this painting came from Major General Francis SAlater–Rebow, owner of Wivenhoe Park, who had been a close friend of Constable's father and was the artist's first important patron. This was not the first work Constable had done for the Rebows; in 1812 he had painted a full–length portrait of the couple's daughter, then aged seven. She can be seen in this painting riding in a donkey cart at the left.

Provenance

Painted for Major-General Francis Slater-Rebow, Wivenhoe Park and Alresford Hall, near Colchester, Essex; by descent through Mary Martin Slater-Rebow and John Gurdon-Rebow to Hector John Gurdon-Rebow [b. 1846].[1] (Leo Nardus [1868-1955], Suresnes, France, and New York); purchased 1906 by Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania;[2] inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1817
Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1817, no. 85.
1983
Constable's England, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1983, no. 27, color repro.
1991
Constable, Tate Gallery, London, 1991, no. 79, repro.
2000
Constable and Wivenhoe Park: Reality and Vision, University Gallery, University of Essex, Colchester, 2000, no. 4, repro.
2006
Constable's Great Landscapes: The Six-foot Paintings, Tate Britain, London; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, 2006-2007, no. 17, repro.
Bibliography
1915
Roberts, William. Pictures in the Collection of P.A.B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: British and Modern French Schools, Philadelphia, 1915: unpaginated, repro.
1923
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
1931
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 226, repro.
1942
Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 5.
1944
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 146, color repro.
1946
Favorite Paintings from the National Gallery of Art Washington, D.C.. New York, 1946: 65-67, color repro.
1948
Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 94, repro.
1956
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 48, repro.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 146
1960
Cooke, Hereward Lester. British Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Eight in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 32, color repro.
1960
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 9, repro.
1962
Bleckett, R.B., ed. John Constable's Correspondence. 6 vols. London (Historical Manuscripts Commission), 1962; Ipswich (Suffolk Records Society, vols. 6, 8, 10, 11, 12), 1964-1968: 2 (1964): 196, 199, 203, 206.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 238, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 29.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:364, color repro.
1968
Cooke, Hereward Lester. Painting Lessons from the Great Masters. London, 1968: 42, fig. 28, color repro. opp. 102.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 22, repro.
1973
Taylor, Basil. Constable: Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours. London, 1973: 29, pl. 51.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 74, repro.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: no. 593, color repro.
1978
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 79, pl. 47.
1979
Hoozee, Robert. L'opera completa di Constable. Milan, 1979: 108, no. 218, repro.; color pls. xx-xxi.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 100, pl. 88.
1983
Rosenthal, Michael. Constable: The Painter and His Landscape. New Haven and London, 1983: 16-17, 104, 108-110, 111, color pls. 12, 16 detail.
1984
Reynolds, Graham. The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1984: 1:4-5, no. 17.4; 2:color pl. 6.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 406, no. 578, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 93, repro.
1992
Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 29-32, color repro. 31.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 155, repro.
1997
Hoving, Thomas. Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization. New York, 1997, p. 192-193, repro.
1998
Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition: Romanticism, Realism, and the Nineteenth-Century World, 1998: 1, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 342-343, no. 276, color repro.
2006
Kelly, Franklin. "Constable's Great Landscapes: Planning an Exhibition." Bulletin / National Gallery of Art, no. 35 (Fall 2008): 16, fig. 5.
2012
Marshall, Nancy Rose. City of Gold and Mud: Painting Victorian London. New Haven, 2012: 227, fig. 196.
Technical Summary

The medium-weight canvas is plain woven. It was added to by the artist on either side; the additional pieces are 10.5 cm wide on the left and 9 cm wide on the right; the canvases have been lined. The ground layer visible, a light warm brown, may be an imprimatura over a lighter ground. The painting is executed fluidly and fairly thickly with generally small brushstrokes, the highlights in low impasto. There are minor scattered paint losses. The painting was restored and revarnished with a synthetic resin in 1983.

Explore This Work

There has never been an age…in which the love of landscape has not in some way been manifested.... [Man’s] nature is congenial with the elements of the planet itself, and he cannot but sympathize with its features, its various aspects, and its phenomena in all situations.

John Constable, lecture, 1833 

Wivenhoe Park, Essex radiates clarity. It is easy to imagine oneself on this quiet summer afternoon, under the shady tree just out of sight of the painting’s foreground, where the painter may have set up his easel. All is placid and in place—contented cows graze or snooze, fishermen drag their nets in the pond, and a kitchen garden and domestic animals occupy the space beyond the trees on the right—features typical of the self-sustaining nature of such a country estate.

Moving up the slope in the far left distance is Mary Rebow, daughter of the estate’s owner, Major-General Francis Slater Rebow, driving a donkey cart with a friend, having just crossed the stone dam from the main house perched at the top center of the canvas and bathed in sunlight. The pattern of puffy clouds in the sky is the most active aspect of the picture, the weather producing an occasional breeze to set the flock of birds into flight and rustling the leaves of trees dotting the scene. Constable believed that it was through depictions of light and sky that the painter expressed emotions, capturing what he termed the “chiaroscuro of nature,” evanescent effects of light and dark experienced outdoors. Later in the century, the impressionist painters were to take up this goal as well.

John Constable, Fishing with a Net on Lake Wivenhoe Park, 1888, V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum

John Constable, Fishing with a Net on Lake Wivenhoe Park, 1888. V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum.

Wivenhoe Park, located about 55 miles northeast of London, was the seat of the Rebow family. Major-General Rebow, a friend of Constable’s father, commissioned the artist to capture the beauty of his estate, inviting him to spend some weeks on the premises. General Rebow specified that certain features be included in the painting. Constable arranged these harmoniously, modifying the actual location of certain elements (for example, the house and lake were not actually part of the same view). Typically, the owner of such a house might wish for a more grandiose portrait of it, but Constable preferred the everyday poetry of landscape and sky.

The painting was a important project for Constable on a personal level: He needed the income the commission generated in order to provide for his longtime love, Maria Bicknell, and enable them to marry with the approval of her parents, who opposed the match for a number of years. Wivenhoe Park, Essex was finished by September 1816, and Bicknell and Constable were at last married on October 2, 1816.

John Constable, Self-Portrait,

John Constable, Self-Portrait, 1806. Tate, London / Art Resource, NY.

About the Artist

John Constable did not come from a family of artists; rather, his interest grew gradually under the tutelage of local painters and connoisseurs he befriended. His father was a flour miller in East Bergholt, Suffolk, a profession he expected his son to assume. John joined the family business after completing school, but in 1799, around age 23, was able to convince his skeptical father to allow him to pursue artistic training. Supported by an allowance, he enrolled at London’s Royal Academy of Art, the foremost institution for arts education and for exhibition of work by accomplished artists. Constable studied the naturalistic landscapes of 17th-century Dutch artists and the classically infused ones by French artist Claude Lorrain.

The artist always saw his calling in landscape painting, which derived from his love of nature and the hills of his native Suffolk. He wrote, “Those scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful: that is, I had often thought of pictures of them before I ever touched a pencil.”

His initial efforts were not met with great acclaim, and he struggled for a decade, taking up more lucrative portrait painting commissions to augment the allowance from his family. Nonetheless, Constable remained focused on scenes of a domesticated landscape imbued with “human associations” rather than the dramatic vistas or sentimental or narrative scenes in favor with the Academy. Ambitious and determined, he honed his craft in the countryside around his family’s home and in places such as Salisbury in the southwest, where he stayed with a friend and frequently painted its cathedral (an example of which is also in the collection).

John Constable, Maria Constable with two of her Children, c. 1820. Tate, London / Art Resource, NY.

John Constable, Maria Constable with two of her Children, c. 1820. Tate, London / Art Resource, NY.

By 1816, Constable had achieved enough stability in his professional life to enable him to marry his longtime fiancée, Maria Bicknell, with whom he had seven children and a happy marriage. (Constable’s voluminous writings have left an extensive account of all the details of his life.) Initially the family lived in London and then Hampstead, a small village outside the city.  An artistic breakthrough occurred around 1820, when Constable was well into his 40s, with several six-foot wide pictures that he painted with the express purpose of garnering the approval of the academy—accustomed to monumental pictures—without sacrificing his own aims. The works started receiving notice in the press, and he was elected an associate academician around this time, which conferred hanging privileges in exhibitions. He finally achieved the rank of full academician at the Royal Academy in 1829, at age 54, recognized as one of the best landscape painters of his age. But the success was bittersweet for Constable, who had lost his beloved Maria the previous year and never fully recovered from the loss. An illness in 1833 crippled the use of his right hand, and he began making drawings and watercolors, which were less physically demanding. He died in 1837 at 60. The first major exhibition devoted to Constable’s work took place in 1899; by then he had become a hero to numerous landscape artists of intervening generations and was directly responsible for elevating the status of the landscape genre in the 19th century.

Related Resources

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