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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Hampstead Heath” by John Constable

Hampstead Heath by John Constable watercolour

“Hampstead Heath” by John Constable

“Hampstead Heath” by John Constable is a watercolour view looking at the panoramic views that were visible in every direction in the open spaces of then-rural Hampstead. Constable enjoyed painting at Hampstead which allowed him to escape London’s summer heat. This watercolour is part of the nearly one hundred sketches he made there, in which he attempted to capture the variable sky and its atmospherics. Constable referred to the practice of painting these works as “skying” where he used the landscape to portray a sense of scale and depth.

Constable completed numerous studies of landscapes and clouds, determined to become scientific in his recording of atmospheric conditions. One critic wrote:

“the atmosphere possesses a characteristic humidity about it, that almost imparts the wish for an umbrella”.

To these sky studies, he added notes, often on the back of the sketches, of the prevailing weather conditions.

John Constable was an English Romantic painter known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home which he painted with a passion. Although his paintings are now famous and valuable, he was not financially successful during his lifetime. His work was more popular in France, where he sold more works than in his native England and which helped inspire the Barbizon school.

Hampstead Heath is a large and ancient London park, covering 320 hectares. The park sits on one of the highest points in London and the view of London from Parliament Hill is protected by law. The skyscrapers of the City of London can be seen, along with St Paul’s Cathedral and other landmarks. The heath is rambling and includes hills,  ponds,  woodlands, playgrounds, a training track and swimming pools. 

Reflections

  • Does this watercolour capture a realistic sky and its atmospherics?
  • In his lifetime, Constable sold only 20 paintings in England and was never financially successful.  Today his pictures are among the most popular and valuable in British art. Why is this the case with so many artists?
  • Popular culture has many references to Hampstead Heath. It has featured in art, fiction, non-fiction, movies and documentaries. What are your associations or references to Hampstead Heath?

Explore

Hampstead Heath

  • Painting:         Hampstead Heath
  • Artist:              John Constable
  • Date:                between 1776 and 1837
  • Medium:         Watercolour on paper
  • Dimensions:  H: 124 mm x W206 mm
  • Museum:        The British Museum

John Constable

  • Born:                  1776 – East Bergholt, Suffolk, East Anglia, England
  • Died:                  1837 (aged 60) – London, England
  • Nationality:        English
  • Notable works:
    • Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows
    • Hampstead Heath
    • Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds

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“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
– William Shakespeare

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Photo Credit: 1) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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