(b. 1776, East Bergholt, d. 1837, Hampstead)

The Lock

Oil on canvas, 142 x 120 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

The English artist John Constable is one of the greatest of European landscape painters, whose handling of light and colour was admired by the masters of Barbizon and the Impressionists, among others.

The painting in Madrid represents the locks of Flatford Mill on the Stour. Constable knew the place from childhood, because his father owned the mill. Every work the artist exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1812 to 1825 included a view of the Stour Valley.

Constable made several studies outdoors for his large-format pictures. In preparation for The Lock, he travelled from his residence in Hampstead outside London to Dedham in spring 1823. The finished paintings never adhered slavishly to such sketches, but rather modified natural appearances in the service of the picture's message.

The principal effect of the composition derives from the landscape scene itself, which is characterized above all by the treatment of light. The light seems to fluctuate before our eyes, analogously to the meteorological interplay in the sky In his differentiation of lighting effects under clouds of varying density Constable relied largely on seventeenth-century Dutch Baroque landscapes, especially those of Jacob van Ruisdael. The present painting employs the identical technique of representing an agitated water surface by means of white impasto.