The Hay Wain
- Pages: 11
- Word count: 2687
- Category: Museum
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The title of the painting is “The Hay Wain”. The Hay Wain is the horse-drawn cart in the painting. The scene is in the countryside of Suffolk, England, the artist’s boyhood home. The cart is crossing the river Stour, a winding river found in the farm owned by the artist’s father. The cottage at the left is the home of the artist’s neighbor, Willy Lott. At present, the cottage still stood but the view on the other side is blocked by overgrown grasses. The original tile of the painting was “Landscape: Noon”, but it was changed to “The Hay Wain” by Constable’s friend, Archdeacon John Fisher of Salisbury ( Barker 2000, Kaufmann 2006).
The artist who painted “The Hay Wain” is the British painter John Constable (1776-1837). Constable was primarily a landscape painter but since landscapes were not that popular in his time, he often resorted to portrait painting to support his large family. As a landscape painter, his most important work was his “sky studies”, where he sketched and recorded the different weather conditions, shapes and forms of the sky or cloud in a certain day and time. Constable believed that the role of the clouds is to express the moods of the landscape painting. The Hay Wain is the result of the many sketches Constable made whenever he went home from London. Although he made many open-air sketches, Constable finished his artworks inside a studio. As an artist, John was not as famous as he is today for he is now classified as one of the greatest English landscape painters( Barker 2000, Kaufmann 2006).
The Hay Wain is found in almost every English home. The wide appeal of the painting may be attributed to the painting’s ability to communicate freshness to the viewer. This is because “The Hay Wain” followed the romantic style of painting. This means that the painting was not idealized but depicted naturally the way Constable saw it. As a result, the finished product looked more natural, alive. One French writer described it as a “mirror of nature”. Constable’s appreciation and admiration of the English countryside showed forth in this painting. In fact, much of these feelings are depicted in this painting for as he said painting for him is just another way of expressing his feeling (Barker 2000, Internal splendor 1991 ).
The painting was finished in 1821. It was a consolidation of the many sketches made by Constable in the previous years. For example, Constable made many oil sketches of the cottage alone between the years 1810-15. The painting was exhibited in 1821 at the Royal Academy in London but none was interested in buying it. By 1824, Constable tried his luck in exhibiting the painting in the famous Paris Salon. Fortunately, the French painters appreciated his “naturalist and expressive way” of depicting a landscape. In that exhibition, “The Hay Wain” was awarded the gold medal by Charles X (Barker 2000, Kauffmann 2006).
John Constable was an English, romantic painter. He was born and raised in Stour, Suffolk, England. Constable was the son of a landowning corn farmer, Golding Constable. He studied painting in the Royal Academy School at the age of twenty-two in the year 1799. He loved the English countryside and he never traveled abroad just to find a beautiful view to paint like what many artist did in his time. He preferred to paint the many beautiful scenes of the country that nurtured him (Barker 2000).
The dominant colors in the “The Hay Wain” are green and white. The different shades of green lend a naturalistic coloring to the surrounding. The green shades contributed to a “cool” effect to the whole area. The white, on the other, lightened the whole place. Only the threatening dark clouds above and the shadows cast by the tall trees darkened the foreground view. The blue behind the white clouds also contributed to the “coolness” of the painting. On the other hand, the almost orange color of the roof of the cottage and the red color at the back of the horse lent warmth to the painting. Overall, the painting looked cool (or fresh) due to the dominance of the green and it was more bright than dark because the white color dominated (Dudley 1973, Barker 2000).
The dominant lines were vertical (standing trees) and curvilinear (leaves and clouds), and horizontal (the field beyond). Because of the vertical lines of the trees (and cottage walls), the painting looked balanced and stable. The curvilinear lines of the leaves of the trees and the cloud above gives life and energy to the painting. On the other hand, the horizontal line of the flat field beyond makes the whole place looked peaceful or relaxed. The few diagonal lines exhibited by some branches of the trees, the dog, and two people suggests that there was an action being currently performed in the painting. In a sense, the diagonal lines make the paining looked more alive (Dudley 1973, Internal Splendor 1991).
TYPE & PURPOSE:
“The Hay Wain” is a landscape painting. It was not an idealized (classical type ) of painting but a romantic one , so the purpose was not to only make the viewer stare at the painting and admire the talent of the artist but instead it sought to involve the emotion of the viewer. In other words, in a personal level, Constable wanted the viewer to feel the painting, to make them a part of it as if it is real standing in front of them. Constable wanted the viewer to digest the beauty of the English countryside and to commune with it. Furthermore, he wants to communicate to the viewer that he can live in harmony with nature or that nature is part of his existence. If the viewer understands what Constable was trying to say through the painting, then they will experience the peace and relaxation that nature provides to the human soul (Internal Splendor 1991).
There was no probable patron for the painting. In fact, Constable sought for a buyer for the painting but unfortunately, in the Royal Academy exhibition, no one showed interest. Constable aspired to make it big as a painter and the only way to do it was to join painting exhibitions. Although he had no patrons, he was encouraged by both his brother Abram and his friend John Fisher to join the exhibitions in the Royal Academy. At the time that Constable made the “The Hay Wain”, portraits were more popular and so have more patrons. When “The Hay Wain” was awarded with a gold medal in Paris Salon, however, many Paris dealers offered to be his patrons there but Constable refused for he do not want to leave England ( Internal Splendor 1991).
The medium used for the painting was oil on canvass. Constable made many separate outdoor oil sketches of the scenes found in “The Hay Wain” before he embarked in making a full size preparatory sketch in oil. Constable was the only landscape painter in his time that made outdoor oil sketches. Later, the Impressionist painters adopted this practice. The small separate oil sketches were consolidated for composition and this was done in the Yale Center for British Art. When Constable decided to join the Royal Academy Exhibition, he converted the small oil sketch into a six-foot canvass (Kauffmann 2006).
The painting is 4.27 ft x 6.08 ft (130.2 cm x 185.4 cm) oil in canvass. This means that the painting is ‘large’. For me, the larger a landscape painting the more realistic it is. It is as if I can just easily “step” into the painting and become a part of it. If it were smaller, the naturalism of “The Hay Wain” may not be lost but it will not be as “real” as the bigger version. Personally, when I look into a small size but beautiful landscape painting, I feel as if the scene is somewhere far away, making me think that it is nice to go there but it is impossible to do so because of its distance. However, in large landscape paintings, I had the involuntary feeling that the scene is just close by. Portrait painting is another story. Large portrait painting of this size just intimidates me, for they look so dominating.
BRUSH STROKES/MEDIUM HANDLING:
The Hay Wain displayed a very loose broad distinctive brushstroke with thick highlights that is characteristic of Constable’s paintings. Because he was concern in being very natural in the painting, he sought to bring out in the painting light and motion. He achieved this not only through color combination but also in the nature of the brushstroke. Constable’s obvious use of varied rapid brushstroke jabbing and sweeping is evident in the trees, the cottage, the land, almost in all objects. His critics in fact accused him of being careless in using the brushstroke. But Constable defended himself by saying that that is the only way he can achieve the desired “brightness” of “lightness” in a naturalist painting like The Hay Wain (Internal splendor 1991).
Constable had expertly conveyed the dramatic ‘chiaroscuro effect’ of the combination of light and shadow in this painting. The painting is not so bright as to be glaring to the eye (since it is supposed to be a noon scene). The brightness of the white clouds is balanced by the shadow reflected on the water by the trees. The dark cloud above also lessens the brightness of the scene although it conveyed a message that the weather condition may change later. Obviously the source of light is implied, it is the sun. The sun’s light is reflected on the white clouds. The mixture of light and shadow in “The Hay Wain” helped to create the mood or emotion of the painting.
The culture of landscape painting that preceded the time of John Constable was classical. Classical landscape painting follows the established order and reason. For example, classical landscaped painting should have a brown foreground and blue background. Instead, Constable colored his landscape green so that one of the English artists at that time called The Haywain, “a nasty green thing!” Landscape painting of the classical period was historical or mythological in nature. ‘The Hay Wain’ is neither of the two. In other words, Constable deviated from the influence of the classical period(Dudley 1973).
SPATIAL DEPTH DEPICTED
The depth in the painting is achieved by atmospheric perspective. This means that in the painting the space stretches farther beyond. To create this kind of spatial depth, Constable no longer drew the far objects in detail, for example, the trees beyond did not have any distinct details of its branches and leaves in comparison to the trees in the foreground. Moreover, the sizes of the trees beyond were much smaller. There is also a loss of contrast in colors for far objects. Farthest objects had a medium gray color, giving the impression that they were in a state of disappearance due to their distance. Overall, far objects look hazy. The same thing can be said in comparison between the people in the foreground and the hay harvesters at the right.
“The Hay Wain” had a very real texture. Through the eye alone, I can feel the rough texture of the cottage, the cart, the land, the branches of the trees and the leaves. I can feel the smoothness and slippery effect of the water in the river. I can even feel the fluffiness of the clouds. The roughness is achieved through the combination of colors in different shades. The smoothness and slippery effect of the water are achieved not only through color combination but also through the play of light and shadow. The fluffiness of the clouds are achieved through the play of light and shadow as well as the overlapping of the shapes.
The objects in the painting are well- proportioned relative to each other. The trees and cottage were larger than the man and the horses. The branches of the trees were smaller in proportion to the main branch. The dog, on the other hand, is much smaller than those mentioned above. The objects far beyond appear to be much smaller than all objects in the foreground, like in real life. The clouds up above appear to be large and imposing but this is also in proportion relative to the objects below it. Over-all the objects of the painting fits perfectly to the size of the canvass.
By the time Constable exhibited “The Hay Wain”, landscape painting (having no historical or mythological basis) was not yet popular. This was a big problem for Constable, for aside from that he did not follow the classical rules of balance and order or finish (like Constable’s rough jabbing of the brushstroke). No wonder then that the “The Hay Wain” was snubbed in the British Exhibition, and on the other hand, sparked interest from the French painters. When the French remarked that “The Hay Wain” was a “mirror of nature”, it only indicates that they had never seen a landscape painting that was as real as The Hay Wain before. Though Constable deviated from the influenced of the Classical period, the naturalism of The Hay Wain influenced future painters, specifically the young Eugene Delacroix, one of the greatest French painters of all time. When the latter visited London, he did not fail to seek Constable and learned from him. Later, the Impressionist painters copied Constables’ values of light and texture (Internal Splendor 1991).
Question 19 ( I think you alone can answer this)
What single artwork in your textbook does it most closely resemble, and why?
Question 20 ( This is in relation above)
Include the following: Title, artist, page number, style, date, nationality.
If money or space is not a problem, I would like to own the other painting of John Constable named Golding Constable’s Flower Garden (1815). I like the painting because I feel an appreciation to the artist’s love and loyalty to the countryside of his hometown. Aside from that, the painting is simple, in contrast to the complicated reality of my life. The painting reminds me to relax, to slow down, and to keep it easy. Aside from that, the painting does not have much color yet it looks so real. Above all, it makes me feel nostalgic.
The Metropolitan Museum is a must-see place for viewing and learning about art. They have extensive collections of art from all periods and from all places. The Museum itself is a big piece of architectural art with its tall columns, water fountains and big stairs. It is easy to be lost in the Museum due to its immense size but there are always friendly museum personnel standing by to help. Aside from the admirable display of the many collections of works of arts in the museum, they also have other educational resources such as libraries and online resources that can aid any person in learning and understanding about the art he is interested in. And the best thing is, since the real work of art is expensive, he can buy reproductions from the museum.
- Barker, Elizabeth E.(2000). “John Constable (1776–1837)”. In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved February 11, 2008 from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jcns/hd_jcns.htm (October 2004)
- Dudley, Louise and Austin Faricy.(1973). The Humanities. New York: McGraw-Hill Book, Company.
- ___________Internal splendor. (1991). Economist, Vol. 320, Issue 7714. pp. 93-94.
- Kauffmann, C.M. (2006). John Constable “The Hay Wain”. V&A Masterpieces Series.
Retrieved February 11, 2006 from http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/paintings/stories/Constable_Hay-Wain/index.html
The Hay Wain 1821 (National Gallery, London)
Can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art at