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Oil painting - Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree
  • Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree
    John Constable, born 1776 - died 1837
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Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1821 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    John Constable, born 1776 - died 1837 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Isabel Constable

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS, case R, shelf 98, box L

Constable probably painted this remarkable sketch in Hampstead. It is so realistic that it has an almost photographic quality. The artist's friend and biographer C. R. Leslie recalled: 'I have seen him admire a fine tree with an ecstasy of delight like that with which he would catch up a beautiful child in his arms'.

Physical description

Study of an elm tree trunk with a forest scene behind.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (painted)


ca. 1821 (painted)


John Constable, born 1776 - died 1837 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Inscribed in monogram in ink on back


Height: 306 mm approx., Width: 248 mm approx., Height: 544 mm frame, Width: 499 mm frame, Depth: 40 mm frame

Object history note

Given by Isabel Constable, 1888

Historical context note

The chief of Constable's four exhibits in 1821 was 'Landscape: Noon' ('The Hay Wain') (National Gallery No. 1207; for the full-scale sketch see No. 209 [987-1900] in this Catalogue). His third child, Charles Golding Constable, was born on 29 March. He accompanied Archdeacon John Fisher on his visitation of Berkshire in June, took No. 2 Lower Terrace, Hampstead, for his family during the summer and autumn and paid a visit to Fisher at Salisbury in November.

[G Reynolds, 1973, p. 135]

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree', John Constable, ca. 1821

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of the Constable Collection, Graham Reynolds, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1973, pp. 135, 146-147
Robert Hoozee, ed. British Vision. Observation and Imagination in British Art 1750-1950 / with contributions from Mark Evans, Mark Haworth-Booth and Stephen Calloway. Ghent: Museum voor Schone Kunsten; Mercatorfonds, 2007. ISBN: 978 90 6153 749 6
Shân Lancaster, ed. Constable and Brighton: something out of nothing. London : Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers Ltd, 2017. ISBN: 9781785510694.
p. 134

Labels and date

Label, probably created for Elise load [author unknown]:

"At first sight, this study seems astonishingly 'photographic' in its acuity of detail, but closer examination reveals Constable's characteristic devotion to the physicality of oil pigments and paint-brushes. In particular, the treatment of the bark of the tree results in a tactile quality we usually only experience in the work of artists such as Velasquez and Chardin. They too were able to invest humble, ordinary subjects with a dignity and splendour. Constable would be surprised to find himself in such company, but would appreciate our recognition that - in his own words - his art was 'to be found under every hedge and in every lane'. He also wrote that 'the landscape painter must walk in the fields with a humble mind - no arrogant man was ever permitted to see nature in all her beauty'. We might also remember the anecdote Constable's friend and first biographer, Leslie, told: when William Blake saw a drawing of some trees by Constable, he announced 'Why, this is not drawing, but inspiration!'" []


Oil paint; Paper


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Tree, Elm




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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