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Creator:
John Constable, 1776–1837, British
Title:

Study of a Cloudy Sky

Former Title(s):

Cloud study

Landscape with Grey Windy Sky

Study of Clouds over a Landscape

Date:
ca. 1825
Medium:
Oil on paper on millboard
Dimensions:
10 3/8 x 13 inches (26.4 x 33 cm) and 15 × 17 1/2 inches (38.1 × 44.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1981.25.124
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
blue | brown | brushwork | clouds | field | flat | gray (color) | impasto | landscape | meteorology | millboard | rain | science | sketches | sky | texture | trees | white (color)
Access:
On view in the galleries
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:635
Export:
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For Constable the sky was more vital to a landscape than the land itself; and he observed and recorded cloud formations, weather conditions, and the light effects to which they gave rise more avidly than any painter before him. The present work is one of the many small oil sketches of clouds he made, outdoors in the open air, to keep himself in practice for the larger skies that he would improvise in the studio when he came to paint his grand exhibition pictures. He was sometimes criticized for affording the skies too dominant a role in these but maintained that it was better to err in that direction than to treat them as mere backdrops as-almost incredibly-people advised him to do. As he wrote in a letter to his friend John Fisher: That Landscape painter who does not make his skies a very material part of his composition-neglects to avail himself of one of his greatest aids…It will be difficult to name a class of Landscape, in which the sky is not the "key note," the standard of "Scale," and the chief "Organ of sentiment."1 In other words, he thought of the sky as the emotional, mood-setting element of the landscape: just as the history painter or portraitist must master human physiognomy and expression, the landscapist must master the face of the heavens. It was the most changeable element, which meant that-if painted convincingly-it could transmit the sense of life and freshness that was so important to his vision of the English countryside; in a way it was the key to the whole Romantic idea of nature as ceaselessly in flux. The Constable sky was synonymous with clouds, and as such it was also distinctively British: the emphatically overcast sky, with rain or the promise of rain to come, was one of the ways in which he distanced himself from the balmy Mediterranean type of landscape that many still considered the ideal of natural beauty. Clearly Constable thought of his cloud studies as akin to entries in a diary or log, and would often annotate them with the date, time, wind direction, and so on. He once remarked that in nature "no two days are alike, nor even two hours."2 Growing up in farming and windmilling country, he had developed a keen eye for the weather and its changes as a boy. His cloud studies were a way of maintaining this, his means of ensuring that all his pictures would make sense from the weather point of view. He was interested in the science of meteorology, and his reading on this subject and his cloud studies came from the same impetus, the desire to see and paint nature not as an "innocent eye" but with knowledge and understanding. When not inscribed by the artist himself, Constable's cloud studies are difficult to date, and this is a case in point. He did most of his "skying," as he called it, on the high natural observatory of Hampstead Heath in 1821-22, producing about a hundred works. But he painted others in later years and different places, and the strip of landscape at the bottom of the present example recalls particularly those he made while staying with John Fisher in Salisbury in 1829. It was among the works that passed to the artist's son Lionel, who in 1876-to mark the centenary of Constable's birth-presented it to one of his father's most successful Victorian followers, George Vicat Cole.?

Malcolm Warner, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 138, no. 55, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Thomas Cole's Journey - Atlantic Crossings (National Gallery, London, 2018-06-13 - 2018-10-07) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Thomas Cole's Journey - Atlantic Crossings (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018-01-29 - 2018-05-13) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Yale University Art Gallery 2015 - 2016 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-07-27 - 2015-01-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

John Constable - A Selection of Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (National Gallery of Art, 1969-04-30 - 1969-11-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Malcolm Cormack, A Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 62-63, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert Hoozee, L'opera completa di Constable, 98, Rizzoli, Milano, Italy, 1979, pp. 150-51, no. 649, NJ18 C74 A12 +H66 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Constable, a selection of paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. , National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1969, pp. 58-59, no. 62, NJ18 C74 U5 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 138, no. 55, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 86 (v.1), no. 117, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Graham Reynolds, The later paintings and drawings of John Constable, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1984, p. 113 (v.1), no. 20.63, pl. 385, NJ18 C74 R485 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sebastian Smee, Meaning and Nothingness in ‘Study of a Cloudy Sky’, , The Boston Globe, May 30, 2016, https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater-art/2016/05/29/meaning-and-nothingness-study-cloudy-sky/hJ6DSVVCu9tGjxetwpalaO/story.html [Website]


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