Monday 3: The Hay wain
John Constable 
1821

IMG_2733.jpeg

In this painting we see a Suffolk country scene. Two men are leading their horses into the water, while a dog waits for them on the small beach. In the distance, there are flecks of white which represent hay workers working in the field. 

 

The predominant colour in this painting is green but depending on where the light hits the green, depends on its shade. For example the tree leaves under the black clouds are darker in colour than those under the blue sky. He has added flecks of yellow in the leaves to create the sense of movement as though there is a breeze blowing though them. Despite the strong use of green in the painting he uses colours like white and red to draw the viewer around the painting. By adding white to the river, he makes it seem alive, flowing and reflective. The red saddle of the horses echoes the red scarf of the person within the reeds and the red cows in the far distance. 

The use of light brushstrokes and the unfinished nature adds to the feeling of being outside in the fresh air. There is no posing in this painting. Everyone is simply going about their daily lives. The men in the water have come to cool down the wheels of their hay wain because the friction builds up over a long time spent dragging it along. There are also two people sitting, taking a break, on the dock by the white house with red tiles owned by Willy Lott. 

 

We get the feeling of a much slower time. This painting was painted during the height of the industrial and agricultural revolution in Britain when factories were being built turning towns into cities and machinery was taking over the work of agricultural labourers meaning people would often have to leave the countryside in order to find work. Having said this, there is no sense of change to life through the figures. 

 

However, it could be interpreted that the use of dark clouds on the top left, which are beginning to envelope the beautiful blue sky and fluffy clouds on the right could be a way of Constable portraying his own dislike of the industrial and agricultural revolution as, being a country Suffolk boy himself, he had a distrust for this new age of machinery fearing it will ruin the quiet and peaceful rural way of life. This in itself however is a glorified way of looking at rural life because the reality of living in the countryside was of hardship as bad weather meant bad crops which meant no food or income. 

 

Perhaps because of the dependability of the weather, Constable became obsessed with the movement of clouds. He used to lie and watch them all day making him an expert at painting them. He said that ‘you can only see something truly when you understand it.’