John Constable made his cloud studies in a concentrated burst of activity while living in Hampstead, north London, in the early 1820s. It was the first time he had devoted himself exclusively to skies, even though he had been painting directly from nature since 1802. The inscriptions on some of these cloud studies indicate that they took at least an hour to paint, and he seems to have used a specially prepared paper fitted to the lid of his paint box. As Constable explained at the end of his career: “I am greatly mistaken if every landscape painter will not acknowledge that his most serene hours have been spent in open air, with his palette in his hand.” Nevertheless, no painting, however rapidly worked, can capture something as transient as a cloud, and these studies should be seen as the result of Constable’s long contemplation of skies rather than as straightforward renderings of actual passing cloud formations.
Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2022