Romantic Circles Gallery
Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames
In the left register of the picture plane are the two remaining towers of Hadleigh Castle. Between the decaying stone edifices, underbrush and foliage have over-grown the crumbling ruins. In the lower left corner, the figure of a shepherd boy wielding a staff can be seen with his dog following him. To the right of the tower closest to the center of the canvas another figure, presumably a cowherd, can be seen lounging on the hill that leads down to the water, watching over three cows as they graze on the craggy hillside. Several seagulls are flying in a diagonal pattern across the picture plane toward the horizon. Large cumulus clouds nearly cover the sky, with rays of sunlight breaking through to illuminate the distant horizon.
Copyright, 2009, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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ProvenanceThe artist’s sale, Foster’s, May 15-16, 1838 (78); Tiffin, 1838; Hogarth; his sale, Christie’s June 13, 1851 (46); Winter; Louis Huth, 1863; private collection, U.S.A., until 1960; Agnew, 1961; Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1961; given by them, 1977.
Exhibition HistoryRoyal Academy 1829 (322).
Printing ContextThe painting was created for the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1829, and was also included in the catalogue.
Associated EventsThe creation of Hadleigh Castle is intricately connected to Constable’s relationship with his spouse Maria. The pencil sketch of the ruins was first created in 1816 during a tumultuous time in the couple’s courtship. In 1828, Constable returned to and finished the work while Maria was suffering from a life-threatening illness. She died in 1828, survived by her husband and their seven children. Her death devestated Constable, and the consequent grief and despair from losing such an integral part of his life strongly affected this work in particular (F. Constable, Biography, 116).
Associated PlacesThe Royal Academy
Constable was instituted into the Royal Academy in February 1800, and his painting Hadleigh Castle was submitted to the Royal Academy in 1829 (J. Ivy, “Constable, John”).
Hadleigh Castle, in the county of Essex in England, is located overlooking the Thames River. Originally built in the thirteenth century, the ruins that remain are a prominent landmark in the surrounding area (B. Cole, Art Western World, 228-30).
Associated TextsConstable added a quotation from James Thomson’s poem "Summer" from The Seasons in the catalogue:
The desert joys
Wildly, through all his melancholy bounds,
Rude ruins glitter; and the briny deep,
Seen from some pointed promontory’s top,
Far to the blue horizon’s utmost verge,
Restless, reflects a floating gleam.
The painting was also engraved (mezzotint) by David Lucas.
SubjectThis image depicts the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, the sea distant in the background. Critics argue that the image further serves as a landscape symbolic of Constable's grief at the death of his wife.
ThemeRuins; castle; storm; sea
SignificanceJohn Constable is one of the most esteemed Romantic painters of Great Britain, though his success came later in his career, after experiencing much criticism. It took awhile for Constable’s work, at first often criticized as unsophisticated by the Royal Academy, to gain the precedence it now has today (R. Gadney, John Constable 144). Constable was revolutionary in his landscapes' techniques and influenced French Romanticism. He wanted his paintings to capture the temporality and sentimentality of nature from his own actual observances. Constable believed that "No two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world," (G. Reynolds, “Constable at the Tate”). His work, including Hadleigh Castle, is an epitome of the Romantic appeal of emotion and nature. Constable’s use of intense color and attention to the effects of weather and atmosphere contribute to the vibrancy and sentimental affection associated with his work (M. Pidgley, “Constable”). Constable’s landscape Hadleigh Castle, for example, was strongly influenced by his own personal devastation and despair. Finished after the loss of his beloved wife Maria, the imagery of Hadleigh Castle gives insight into the emotional turmoil he was experiencing at the time. In this melancholy scene, the sky is depicted just after a tumultuous storm, with ruins in the foreground. After the death of his wife, Constable surely felt himself a ruin recently subjected to a turbulent storm (F. Constable, Biography, 116). Furthermore, Hadleigh Castle demonstrates the customary depiction of ruins in order to evoke loss and awe rather than their imagined original state. Constable’s departure from the conventions of his predecessors at first produced much criticism, but ultimately, it was his novel use of color and atmosphere and his ability to infuse his landscapes with emotion and sensitivity that distinguished him as a predominant Romantic painter.
BibliographyConstable, Freda. John Constable: A Biography, 1776-1837 . Lavenham: Dalton, 1975.
Ivy, Judy Crosby. “Constable, John (1776–1837).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography . Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2008. 20 Apr. 2009 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6107.
Gadney, Red. John Constable R. A., 1776-1837 A Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolours, with a Selection of Mezzotints by David Lucas after Constable for "English Landscape Scenery", in the
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge . London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1976.
Pidgley, Michael. "Constable, John." The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online . 2 Apr. 2009 http://www.oxfordartonline.com .
Rosenthal, Michael. "Constable, John." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online . 2 Apr. 2009 http://www.oxfordartonline.com.
Reynolds, Graham. "Constable at the Tate: 'Painting is with Me but Another Word for Feeling.'" Art News 75 1976.
Reynolds, Graham. Constable's England . New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983.