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John Constable, 1776–1837

Cloud Study

Former Title(s):

Study of Altocumulus Clouds [1984, Reynolds, The later paintings and drawings of John Constable, catalogue raisonné]

Materials & Techniques:
Oil on paper on board
9 3/4 x 11 7/8 inches (24.8 x 30.2 cm), Frame: 15 1/8 × 16 7/8 × 2 inches (38.4 × 42.9 × 5.1 cm)

back: "Sept'r 13th one o'clock. Silent wind at North West, which became tempestuous in the afternoon, with rain all the night following."

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
blue | clouds | gray | light | meteorology | motion | science | texture
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

John Constable made his cloud studies in a concentrated burst of activity while living in Hampstead, north London, in the early 1820s. It was the first time he had devoted himself exclusively to skies, even though he had been painting directly from nature since 1802. The inscriptions on some of these cloud studies indicate that they took at least an hour to paint, and he seems to have used a specially prepared paper fitted to the lid of his paint box. As Constable explained at the end of his career: “I am greatly mistaken if every landscape painter will not acknowledge that his most serene hours have been spent in open air, with his palette in his hand.” Nevertheless, no painting, however rapidly worked, can capture something as transient as a cloud, and these studies should be seen as the result of Constable’s long contemplation of skies rather than as straightforward renderings of actual passing cloud formations.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2022

John Constable produced over one hundred sketches of the sky en plein air, an exercise that he described as “skying.” In 1821 he began sketching pure cloud studies in oil that omit the horizon altogether, possibly the first recorded example of which is on display in this gallery. Constable often noted the season, time of day, wind direction, and other weather conditions on the back of his studies, a practice that suggests interest in the emerging science of meteorology. Although clouds feature prominently in his exhibition pictures, these studies were not conceived for particular compositions. Constable never intended them for public display, but, with their focus on nature’s most ephemeral occurrences, they are symptomatic of the contemporary conviction that spontaneous and fragmentary compositions have a greater capacity to engage the viewer’s imagination than finished paintings.

Gallery label for the Critique of Reason: Romantic Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26)
Created by John Constable (1776-1837), the artist, on September 13, 1821; . . . ; acquired by Camille Groult (1832-1908), Paris [1]; by descent to his son, Jean Groult (1868-1951), Paris [2]; by descent to his son, Pierre Bordeaux-Groult (1916-2007), Paris [3] [a]; privately purchased by Paul Mellon (1907-1999), 1965 [b]; by whom given to the Yale Center for British Art, December 1981.

[1] French art collector and heir to a flour-milling family. Began collecting English paintings ca. 1890 from dealers in London, such as Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell. See Grove Art Online, s.v., "Groult, Camille," by Stephane Loire, https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T035112 ; and "La Collection Groult," L'Illustration 66, no. 3386 (1908): 49-56, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/ucbk.ark:/28722/h2dg8q?urlappend=%3Bseq=59
[2] No Constable paintings were sold in the anonymous Camille Groult sale of 1920, suggesting they remained in Jean Groult's collection until his death. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k320715g
[3] No Constable paintings are invoked in Jean Groult's 1952 sale, suggesting they remained in the family until Paul Mellon's purchase in 1965. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000289429

[a] Graham Reynolds, The later paintings and drawings of John Constable (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 1:81, https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/orbis:582470.
[b] Ibid.

In a New Light: Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art (Yale University Art Gallery, 2023-03-24 - 2023-12-03) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Jardins (Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2017-03-13 - 2017-07-23) [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]

Constable's Clouds (National Galleries of Scotland, - 2000-10-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Constable's Clouds (Walker Art Gallery, 2000-04-28 - ) [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, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 60-61, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Constable, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK & New York, NY, 1986, pp. 137, 139, pl. 139, NJ18 C74 C75 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert Hoozee, L'opera completa di Constable, 98, Rizzoli, Milano, Italy, 1979, pp. 122-23, no. 346, 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. 42-43, no. 44, NJ18 C74 U5 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Laurent Le Bon, Jardins, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, p. 47, fig. 8, N8217.G36 J37 2016 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Edward. Morris, Constable's clouds : paintings and cloud studies by John Constable, , National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh & Liverpool, UK, 2000, p. 68, no. 39, NJ18 C74 C76 2000 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Graham Reynolds, The later paintings and drawings of John Constable, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1984, pp. 81-81 (v.1), no. 21.50, pl. 255 (v.2), NJ18 C74 R485 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

The critique of reason : Romantic art, 1760-1860 : March 6-July 26, 2015, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 2015, [pp. 3-4], fig. 3, V 2574 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John E. Thornes, John Constable's skies : a fusion of art and science, , University of Birmingham Press, Birmingham, UK, 1999, pp. 228-29, no. 17, pl. 99, NJ18 C74 T56 1999 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Barry Venning, Constable, Studio Editions, London, 1990, pp. 94-5, NJ18 .C74 V45 1990 + Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

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