Hadleigh Castle Revisited

So following on from the first watercolour experiment I thought I’d have another go. I reviewed my reflection notes and to combat the curling sketchpad paper problem I raided the stationary for these —>

There was nothing I could do about the time limit issue, but to combat the cold and unpleasant outdoor experience I painted indoors from a photo I’d taken of a place I know very well, the ruins of 13th Century Hadleigh Castle. I was able to paint over 3 lunchtimes that way. Here is my finished picture:

Hadleigh Castle, Watercolour on paper
I was standing right on the edge of a drop here so Constable’s view no longer exists

In the eighteenth century ruins were a very popular topic for artists. Constable and J.M.W. Turner were among those who toured Britain in search of ruins and picturesque landscapes. I picked on Hadleigh because it is one of the locations that Constable had painted at. This view point isn’t exactly as his was because the area has changed quite a bit in the last almost 200 years. Whatever high viewing place he was situated on no longer exists. Neither does the large tree or half of the castle ruins. It also looks as though we’ve reclaimed a lot more land because I could only see the sea as a tiny blue line in the distance from where I stood.

Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames–Morning after a Stormy Night. 1829
John Constable, 1776–1837.
Oil on canvas
48 x 64 3/4 inches (121.9 x 164.5 cm)
© Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection


My paining is not as true to life as the photo. It would have been easier to paint if i hadn’t added the clouds but I thought it needed something other than blue sky. Also, Constable always had interesting skies in his pictures. He took scientific study of clouds to get them more accurate. Also, the colour of my sky is wrong, too deep. I enjoyed experimenting with the brush to create the different textures for the greenery but this wasn’t very 18th C of me because they were painstakingly meticulous and would have drawn it all much more accurately than I have the patience for unfortunately. I think this sketch was more successful than the last one (of St Pauls), because I am more comfortable indoors generally. I would not have had the time to paint this scene from life because it’s too far from London for a lunchtime jaunt and at the weekends I have my toddler with me. Also, the clips (and lack of wind) really helped with curling paper situation. I toyed with the idea or adding some people but in the end decided against it.

Constable’s Castle

Constable also didnt do his giant canvas in the field, he created this pencil sketch in 1814, the only time he visited Hadleigh.

He wrote to his future wife Maria: ‘At Hadleigh there is a ruin of a castle which from its situation is a really fine place – it commands a view of the Kent hills, the Nore and North Foreland & looking many miles to sea’ (letter of 3 July 1814; in R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable’s Correspondence, II, Ipswich 1964, p.127).(Tate, 1998)

Hadleigh Castle, near Southend
Pencil, Page from a sketch book. Pencil drawing of Hadleigh castle.
8.3 cm x 11.1 cm
Given by Isabel Constable, daughter of the artist
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

From that he made some oil sketches such as this one in the Tate to work out any kinks in the compositional details:

Sketch for ‘Hadleigh Castle’ c.1828-9 John Constable 1776-1837 Purchased 1935 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N04810
© Tate 2017, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

As an aside, the technical paper on this sketch is very interesting. Explaing how they know that someone other than Constable has extended the canvas to add to the sketch and composition on the left (and slightly less on the right). Even in the small reproduction, once its been pointed out, you can clearly see the slightly yellow tone to the edge of the sky on the left and far right.

Constable started painting his 6 footers in 1818, and he submitted his Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames–Morning after a Stormy Night to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1829, the year in which he was elected an Academician.

Constable’s wife Maria died in November 1828, and the sombre, desolate tone of the work is generally assumed to reflect his mood at this time. In a letter of 19 December of that year, he wrote to his brother Golding: ‘I shall never feel again as I have felt, the face of the World is totally changed to me‘ (in C.R. Leslie, ed. Hon. Andrew Shirley, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, R.A., London 1937, p.234). (Tate, 1998)


Duff, N. ‘Constable’s Sketch for Hadleigh Castle: A Technical Examination’, Tate Papers, no.5, Spring 2006. At http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/05/constables-sketch-for-hadleigh-castle-technical-examination (Accessed 9 May 2017)

English Heritage. (2006) History of Hadleigh Castle At: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/hadleigh-castle/history/
(Accessed on 7 May 17)
Tate. (1998) Constable Sketch for ‘Hadleigh Castle’ At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/constable-sketch-for-hadleigh-castle-n04810
(Accessed on 7 May 17)

V&A. (2017) Hadleigh Castle, near Southend Drawing Constable At: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/british-watercolours-landscape-genre/
(Accessed on 7 May 17)

Yale Centre for British Art. (2017) Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames–Morning after a Stormy Night, Constable At: http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1669233
(Accessed on 7 May 17)


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