John Constable, one of the foremost landscape painters of the nineteenth century, was invited to paint this small landscape and a larger companion picture, Wivenhoe Park, Essex (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC), by his patron and friend Major General Francis Slater Rebow, in the late summer of 1816. As the artist wrote to his fiancée, Maria Bicknell, on 21 August that year:
My dearest Love,
I returned from my very pleasant visit at General Rebow’s on Monday … I am going to paint two small Landscapes for the General, views[,] one in the park of the house & a beautifull wood and peice of water, and another a scene in a wood with a beautifull little fishing house, where the young Lady (who is the heroine of all these scenes) goes occasionally to angle. (R. B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence, vol. II,Suffolk Records Society, Ipswich, 1964, p. 196)
This painting depicts the ‘little fishing house’ (now known as ‘the Quarters’) at Alresford Hall. The Quarters had been built in the 1770s, in the fashionable chinoiserie style, for Slater Rebow’s father-in-law. During the mid eighteenth century, Chinese garden pavilions were frequently placed beside lakes or ponds and were used for informal parties, fishing or boating. The closely observed details of Constable’s scene (the dappled light, the lilies on the still water, the skimming swallows) indicate not only the season but also the time of day: a late summer’s afternoon.
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. 18.