Before visiting Flatford, I had no real idea of its historical significance in John Constable’s work. I knew Constable had lived in Suffolk, yet never thought to visit the site of the paintings one of the most prolific English landscape painters to have ever lived.
For nearly 100 years from 1742 to 1846 Flatford Mill was owned by the Constable family, so was the place Constable grew up and first started experimenting as an artist. However, his most famous paintings were actually created as he returned to Suffolk throughout his life.
Much of his work was created back home in his studio in London, despite the paintings having a look of plein air about them. Much of the landscape remains unchanged from the days of Constable, so when walking about the area, it takes you right into his works, such as ‘The Hay Wain’.
The Hay Wain 1821, John Constable, copyright National Gallery.
‘The Hay Wain’ is by far Constable’s most well-known piece, depicting the rural Suffolk countryside along the river Stour. The scene depicts a wagon stopping in the shallow ford, possibly resting his horses, escaping the heat of the summer’s day. In the background you can see some people going about their day, washing clothes and stacking hay, in the shadow of local farmer William Lott’s cottage.
It’s so clear from the details in capturing the aspects of everyday life how deep Constable’s connection is to Flatford. It truly is as if the viewer of the painting is immersed within the setting.
There are so many ways to take in the picturesque scenery, walking around and visiting the sights of some of the paintings or travelling down the river by boat.
I truly recommend visiting Flatford if you love Constable’s paintings or landscape paintings in general, it’s such an amazing experience to see what inspired such an iconic scene.
For more information on Constable, the National Gallery website has detailed information on his paintings and life as an artist. For information about Flatford and the surrounding area, see the National Trust page.