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  • John Constable
    Jun 11, 1776 - Mar 31, 1837
  • Child's Hill Looking Towards Harrow with a Rainbow - John Constable RA was an English landscape painter in the Romantic tradition. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for revolutionising the genre of landscape painting with his pictures of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home – now known as "Constable Country" – which he invested with an intensity of affection. "I should paint my own places best", he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, "painting is but another word for feeling".
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Child's Hill Looking Towards Harrow with a Rainbow
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  • Child's Hill Looking Towards Harrow with a Rainbow

  • John Constable
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  • This lively and atmospheric sketch dates from circa 1830, and appears to depict the landscape at Child's Hill looking towards Harrow. It is probably a preliminary study for a composition which the artist never pursued to completion, and as with several similar pictures, is thinly painted over drawn outlines with plenty of lively white highlights. It must have been executed quickly in the open air and it is interesting to note that the size of the canvas conforms to what is described in the 2006 exhibition Constable, The Great Landscapes at the Tate Gallery as 'the small to medium-sized canvas, measuring approximately 21 by 30 inches (53 by 76 cm.) that Constable especially favoured for outdoor work'.

    It was Sir Charles Holmes, the great pioneering Constable scholar, who first suggested that this picture depicted Child's Hill, and although it is largely devoid of topographical detail, the prominent hills in the distance are closely reminiscent of such panoramic compositions as Child's Hill: Harrow in the distance of 1825 (Reynolds 25.12, plate 583, Victoria and Albert Museum). The lack of completeness with prominent pencil outline and white highlights can be seen in several of the artist's works, notably Study for The Chair Pier Brighton (Reynolds 27.4, plate 636, Philadelphia Museum of Art), Osmington Bay (Reynolds 24.7, plate 480, John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia) and Hove Beach (Reynolds 24.72, plate 543, Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels). Graham Reynolds has pointed out that the lively seated figure of the boy recalls the figures in Maria Constable with three of her children, another unfinished study with pencil underdrawing (Reynolds 22.67, plate 390, private collection). The finely observed panoramic sweep of the composition is reminiscent of many of Constable's Hampstead works whilst the irregular gate looks back to that shown in the foreground of Fen Lane East Bergholt of 1817 (Tate Gallery).

    Constable first took a house for his family in Hampstead in 1819, and continued to visit regularly until finally moving there permanently in 1827. He was greatly attracted to Hampstead Heath, which offered a varied landscape full of local inhabitants, extensive views in all directions and above all, the ever changing skies which were to inspire his remarkable series of cloud studies. Much has been written about Constable's interest in meteorologically accurate rendering of cloud types, but he also had a keen interest in rainbows, a vivid example of which is a prominent feature in the current picture. Though rainbows can be found in some of his early works, they begin to feature regularly in works from the final years of his life, most notably in the Stoke-by-Nayland mezzotint of 1830 and in his great Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows of 1835. The accompanying text for the mezzotint in English Landscape Scenery extols the visual qualities and the physical properties of rainbows, Nature, in all the varied aspects of her beauty, exhibits no feature more lovely nor any that awaken a more soothing reflection than the Rainbow, 'Mild arch of promise'.

    The picture came from the collection of the distinguished writer Thomas Humphrey Ward, principal art critic of The Times, who lived with his wife, the well known novellist Mary Ward, at Stocks, an imposing mansion near Aldbury in Hertfordshire. It subsequently passed to the prominent London collector, Ernest Innes.

    Graham Reynolds saw this picture in 2006 and endorsed the attribution following first-hand inspection.

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Other paintings by John Constable:

Brighton Beach with Colliers
Brighton Beach with Colliers
Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds
Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds
Coast Scene with Breaking Cloud Sun
Coast Scene with Breaking Cloud Sun
Cottage, Rainbow, Mill
Cottage, Rainbow, Mill
John ConstableJohn Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was born in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, to Golding and Ann Constable. His father was a wealthy corn merchant, owner of Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and, later, Dedham Mill. Golding Constable also owned his own small ship, The Telegraph, which he moored at Mistley on the Stour estuary and used to transport corn to London. Although Constable was his parents' second son, his older brother was mentally handicapped and so John was expected to succeed his father in the business, and after a brief period at a boarding school in Lavenham, he was enrolled in a day school in Dedham. Constable worked in the corn business after leaving school, but his younger brother Abram eventually took over the running of the mills.

In his youth, Constable embarked on amateur sketching trips in the surrounding Suffolk countryside that was to become the subject of a large proportion of his art. These scenes, in his own words, "made me a painter, and I am grateful"; "the sound of water escaping from mill dams etc., willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork, I love such things." He was introduced to George Beaumont, a collector, who showed him his prized Hagar and the Angel by Claude Lorrain, which inspired Constable. Later, while visiting relatives in Middlesex, he was introduced to the professional artist John Thomas Smith, who advised him on painting but also urged him to remain in his father's business rather than take up art professionally.

In 1799, Constable persuaded his father to let him pursue art, and Golding even granted him a small allowance. Entering the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer, he attended life classes and anatomical dissections as well as studying and copying Old Masters. Among works that particularly inspired him during this period were paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Lorrain, Peter Paul Rubens, Annibale Carracci and Jacob van Ruisdael. He also read widely among poetry and sermons, and later proved a notably articulate artist. By 1803, he was exhibiting paintings at the Royal Academy.

In 1802 he refused the position of drawing master at Great Marlow Military College, a move which Benjamin West (then master of the RA) counselled would mean the end of his career. In that year, Constable wrote a letter to John Dunthorne in which he spelled out his determination to become a professional landscape painter:
"For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand. I have not endeavoured to represent nature with the same elevation of mind with which I set out, but have rather tried to make my performances look like the work of other men... There is room enough for a natural painter. The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth."

His early style has many of the qualities associated with his mature work, including a freshness of light, colour and touch, and reveals the compositional influence of the Old Masters he had studied, notably of Claude Lorrain. Constable's usual subjects, scenes of ordinary daily life, were unfashionable in an age that looked for more romantic visions of wild landscapes and ruins. He did, however, make occasional trips further afield. For example, in 1803 he spent almost a month aboard the East Indiaman ship Coutts as it visited south-east coastal ports, and in 1806 he undertook a two-month tour of the Lake District. But he told his friend and biographer Charles Leslie that the solitude of the mountains oppressed his spirits; Leslie went on to write:
"His nature was peculiarly social and could not feel satisfied with scenery, however grand in itself, that did not abound in human associations. He required villages, churches, farmhouses and cottages."