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John Constable, The Hay Wain

Key facts
Full title The Hay Wain
Artist John Constable
Artist dates 1776 - 1837
Date made 1821
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 130.2 × 185.4 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Presented by Henry Vaughan, 1886
Inventory number NG1207
Location On loan: National Treasures, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, UK
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Hay Wain
John Constable

The view is of the millpond at Flatford on the River Stour. Flatford Mill was a watermill for grinding corn, operated by the Constable family for nearly a hundred years. It still survives and is about a mile from Constable’s birthplace at East Bergholt, Suffolk. The house on the left also survives; in Constable’s time it was occupied by tenant farmer Willy Lott.

The title, The Hay Wain, refers to the wooden wagon (wain) used for transporting cut and dried meadow grass (hay). The empty wagon is making its way through the shallow water to cross to the meadow on the other side where haymakers are at work.

Although the painting evokes a Suffolk scene, it was created in the artist’s studio in London. Working from a number of open-air sketches made over several years, Constable then made a full-size preparatory oil sketch to establish the composition before painting the final picture.

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