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Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’: A Quiet but Radical British Icon

A Quiet but Radical British Icon

Curator Mary McMahon explores ‘The Hay Wain’ by Constable, in 10 minutes.

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Experience the National Gallery's collection like never before with our new exclusive 'National Treasures' film series. A key strand of the National Gallery's Bicentenary celebrations, we will discover 12 paintings which will be loaned from the Gallery's collection to partner venues throughout the UK, providing expert commentary on these iconic masterpieces.

'The Hay Wain' (1821) by John Constable (1776–1837) will be familiar to many as capturing quintessential English life in the Suffolk countryside. But does this familiarity stop us from seeing how radical this landscape picture was at the time it was made? Curator Mary McMahon shows us the artist's innovations.

The traditional, academic hierarchy of artistic genres still held weight in Constable’s time, which did not favour landscape painters. However, Thomas Gainsborough had paved the way in the previous generation of painters for those that followed, to pursue landscapes as worthy subject matter.

Constable painted Willy Lott’s House, located next to Flatford Mill which his family had leased for nearly a century, a number of times over many years. From his London studio, he would later work from sketches and studies to create 'The Hay Wain'.

His brushwork was loose and broad for the time, and he drew directly from nature for his bright colour palette. This distinguished him from the works of earlier great artists. 

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Dr Mary McMahon

Dr Mary McMahon is Acting Associate Curator of 1600–1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, where she was previously Bernays Curatorial Fellow of British Paintings. Prior to this she has held curatorial, exhibition and research positions at the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Watts Gallery. At the National Gallery she is co-curator of the forthcoming exhibition Discover Constable and the Hay Wain.

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