Constable’s powerful and original conception of what he termed ‘natural painture’, or the ‘pure and unaffected representation’ of nature (outlined in a letter of 29 May 1802 to his friend John Dunthorne), first came to the attention of the artist’s contemporaries in six great canvases depicting the Stour Valley in the Suffolk countryside, which were exhibited at London’s Royal Academy between 1819 and 1825. Working on a scale usually reserved for history painting, Constable endowed his images of everyday agricultural Britain with a new dignity and authority. He also redefined the notion of a ‘finished’ picture by imbuing these large works with something of the spontaneous freedom of a rapidly executed sketch. One of his subjects at this time, the lock at Flatford, was taken up by the artist in a number of paintings executed between c.1823 and 1826. Study of a boat passing a lock is one of these.
This painting shows the sluice gates of Flatford lock being opened to allow a sailing boat to make its way along the river Stour. The subject had enormous personal significance for Constable, who had been born in nearby East Bergholt and whose father owned and operated the mill beside the lock.
Text by Dr Alison Inglis from 19th century painting and sculpture in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 21.