This view is of Bowleaze Cove in Dorset looking west from Osmington. The Jordon stream trickles over the sand, with Furzy Cliff and Jordon Hill beyond. Thick clouds scud across the bright winter sky as the Downs slope to the sandy cove and sea. Constable suggests the waves rolling in to the beach with thick streaks of grey and white paint, which mirror the colour of the clouds.
Constable stayed at the vicarage in Osmington, a small village near Weymouth, during his honeymoon in 1816. The National Gallery’s painting is one of three oil versions of this view by Constable. The first may be the small oil sketch with a stormy sky (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) which was almost certainly painted outdoors from nature. The final, larger and more highly finished painting (Louvre, Paris) is developed from both the others and was exhibited at the British Institution in 1819.
This view is of Bowleaze Cove in Dorset looking west from Osmington. The Jordon stream trickles over the sand, with Furzy Cliff and Jordon Hill beyond. Thick clouds scud across the bright winter sky above the Downs as they slope to the sandy cove and sea. Constable suggests the waves rolling in to the beach with thick streaks of grey and white paint, which mirror the colour of the clouds. The pinkish-buff ground has been left to show through the thinly painted foreground and, in places, through the paint of the sky, to express the colour of the Dorset sand and give weight to the clouds. This technique gives the picture a spontaneous, sketchy appearance.
Constable became familiar with this area of the Dorset coast during the six weeks of his honeymoon from mid-October to December 1816. Aged 40, he married Maria Elizabeth Bicknell, who like him was from East Bergholt in Suffolk. Constable’s friend, the Reverend John Fisher, married the couple in London at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields and invited them to stay at his vicarage in Osmington, a small village near Weymouth. Fisher wrote to Constable: ‘My house commands a singularly beautiful view: & you may study from my very windows.’ He described the countryside there as ‘wonderfully wild and sublime and well worth a painter’s visit’.
Constable made many oil sketches and 20 or so drawings and watercolours of the smaller coves within the wide span of Weymouth Bay and other views nearby. From Osmington, short paths led down to the beach and to the fishing village of Osmington Mills, and up to the panoramic views of the sea from the downs. The only figures in Constable’s views of the bay are fishermen, a few people walking on the sands and an occasional shepherd on the Downs.
The National Gallery’s painting is one of three oil versions of this view by Constable. The first version may be the small oil sketch with a stormy sky, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which was almost certainly painted outdoors from nature. The very rapidly painted little millboard oil sketch would have fitted into the lid of Constable’s outdoor painting box. He used to rest the painting box on his knee and use the lid as an easel. The National Gallery’s canvas is twice the size of the millboard sketch and may have been painted back at the vicarage, about half a mile from the beach.
The distant plume of smoke or water in the stormy scene has been transformed in the National Gallery’s painting into a shepherd with his flock of sheep. The third, larger and more highly finished painting (Louvre, Paris) is the final version Constable painted of this view and is developed from both the others. In the Louvre picture, the sky is stormy and there are a few more figures than in the National Gallery’s painting. It was probably the Louvre version that Constable exhibited at the British Institution in 1819 as ‘Osmington Shore, near Weymouth.’
David Lucas made a mezzotint engraving of the scene titled Weymouth Bay, Dorsetshire, mainly from the Louvre version, for Constable’s book English Landscape Scenery of 1830. Constable suggested the alternative titles of ‘Tempestuous Afternoon’ or ‘Tempestuous Evening’.
The picture was purchased after Constable’s death by George Salting (1835–1909) and entered the National Gallery in 1910 as part of the Salting Bequest.
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