Weather and Art: John Constable

On a recent visit to the Yale Center for British Art, I was enchanted by the cloud studies of John Constable.  He was an English Romantic painter who believed, “…the sky is the source of light in nature, and governs everything.”

Constable is well known for his grand landscapes that emphasize atmospheric phenomena and mood.  His sketch canvases, however, tell us even more about his fascination with the weather.  On the back of his cloud studies, he recorded the weather conditions that existed while he painted.  For example, on the back of the cloud study painted on September 13, 1821, the artist wrote,  “1 o’clock, slight wind at NW, which became tempestuous in the afternoon, with rain all the night following.”

Interested in the developments of the atmospheric sciences of his time, Constable is reported to have owned a copy of Thomas Forster’s Researches About Atmospheric Phenomena.  This book included Luke Howard’s 1802 scientific paper, Essay on the Modification of Clouds, which outlines the classification system for clouds that is still used today.  A self described “man of clouds”, Constable believed, “we see nothing truly till we understand it.”

Constable's "Study of Cirrus Clouds"

Constable's "Seascape Study with Rain Cloud"

Image Credit: John Constable via Wikipedia