The Hay Wain

The Hay Wain - Copyright National Gallery

The Hay Wain depicts a rural Suffolk scene. We see a wagon returning to the fields across a shallow ford for another load. Possibly the horses have stopped for a drink but some think the wagon wheels were being staunched, swelling the wooden wheels to fit the iron frames. In the background, people are going about their daily work - washing clothes in the river, stacking and pitchforking hay onto wagons and fishing. The building on the left belongs to local farmer William Lott.

Constable prepared sketches for The Hay Wain on site and in his studio. The final painting was done entirely in his London studio and was originally called 'Landscape: Noon'. 
Although The Hay Wain  has become Constable’s best loved and most famous work it was considered to be unremarkable when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1821. The painting was shown at the British Institution in 1822 where French Art dealer John Arrowsmith offered to buy it for £70. They agreed that Arrowsmith should take The Hay Wain, View on the Stour Near Dedham and Yarmouth Jetty for £250.

In 1824 The Hay Wain was shown in Paris and awarded the King Charles X Gold Medal for Art

Following the success of The Hay Wain in France, the art establishment started to take notice of John Constable and his work started to sell.

1825 - The Times praises Constable as “the first landscape painter of the day'

1828 - The Royal Academy admits Constable as a full member – aged 52

1838 - The Hay Wain is sold to Edmund Higginson and brought to England by art dealer, DT White who sells it to a Mr Young

1846 - The Hay Wain is sold at Christies by Thomas Rought for £378

1866 - The Hay Wain is sold by Christies to Henry Vaughan for £1,365

1866 - The Hay Wain is given to the National Gallery by Henry Vaughan

To John Constable the sky was "the keynote", the "standard of scale" and the "chief organ of sentiment" in landscape painting but how much meteorology did Constable understand? John Thornes, a professional academic meteorologist, discusses why the sky plays such an important part in Constable's most famous representation of British landscape, The Hay Wain.

Listen to John Thorne's talk here