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Study of Cirrus Clouds

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain, UK (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1822 (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 29, shelf L

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Constable inscribed 'cirrus' on the reverse of this sketch. It shows his countryman's understanding of the weather. He also owned a copy of Researches about Atmospheric Phaenomena by Thomas Forster. It was published in 1815 'with a series of engravings, illustrative of the modifications of the clouds'.

Physical description

Blue, white, and grey study of wispy cirrus clouds.

Place of Origin

Great Britain, UK (painted)


ca. 1822 (painted)


John Constable, born 1776 - died 1837 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Painted by John Constable R.A.'


Height: 114 mm estimate, Width: 178 mm estimate, Height: 45.2 cm Frame, Width: 50.2 cm Frame

Object history note

Given by Isabel Constable, 1888

Historical context note

In 1822 Constable's exhibits at the Royal Academy included: 'View on the Stour near Dedham' (now in the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino) (see sketch-book No. 132, p. 52), 'View from the Terrace, Hampstead' (see No. 252) and 'A study of Trees from Nature' (see No. 223). Constable's fourth child Isabel, the donor of the greater part of the collection catalogued here, was born at No. 2 Lower Terrace, Hampstead, on 23 August.

[G Reynolds, 1973, p. 152]

Descriptive line

Oil sketch of clouds by Constable, England, 19th century.

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

Morris, Edward, ed. Constable's Clouds: Paintings and Cloud Studies by John Constable , Edinburgh : National Galleries of Scotland ; Liverpool : National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, c2000. 176 p. : ill. (some col.). ISBN 1903278058 (paperback), 1903278066 (hardback).
Exhibition catalogue
Catalogue of the Constable Collection, Graham Reynolds, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1973, pp. 152, 153
The following is an extract from the text of the entry:

Holmes, p. 245, who dates c. 1821, lists the sketch as of cirrus clouds. If the inscription was in fact written by the artist and is correctly read as cirrus is confirms that Constable was familiar with the classification of cloud forms introduced by Luke Howard (Badt, pp. 50 and 51).

Note on Nos. 248, 250, and 251A [590-1888, 784-1888, 339-1888 (back)]

In his letter of 7 October 1822 to Fisher, Constable says (L. ed. S., p. 131) “I have made about fifty carefull studies of skies, tolerably large to be carefull”. In his comment on this letter Leslie remarks: “Twenty of Constable’s studies of skies made during this season are in my possession, and there is but one among them in which a vestige of landscape is introduced. They are painted in oil, on large sheets of thick paper, and all dated, with the time of day, the direction of the wind, and other memoranda on their backs. On one, for instance, is written ‘5th of September, 1822. 10 o’clock, morning, looking south-east, brisk wind at west. Very bright and fresh grey clouds running over a yellow bed, about half way in the sky. Very appropriate to the “coast at Osmington”’”. The sketch thus described by Leslie is now in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, having been purchased from the collection of Sir Michael Sadler by the Felton Bequest in 1938; it measures 18 x 12 ins.
No. 249 [590-1888] is the only dated oil sketch in the Museum from the series described by Leslie, but Nos. 250 [784-1888] and 251a [339-1888 back], although smaller, may perhaps be assigned to the same period. The absence of landscape mentioned by Leslie serves to differentiate the pure cloud studies of 1822 from the sky and tree studies of 1821 (see note following No. 235 [786-1888]). Cloud studies dated 28 July, 31 August, 6 September and 21 September 1822 were in the collection of the late Sir Farquhar Buzzard. The last-named of these was sold at Messrs. Sotheby’s, 26 July 1961 (Lot 160). It measured 11 ¼ x 19 ins. and was inscribed on the back Sept. 21. 1822. ½ past one o’clock Looking South. Wind very fresh at East, but warm. Another, dated 1 August 1822, is in the collection of Gilbert Davis (reproduced by Badt, Pl. 5). Nos. 313 and 238 at the Grosvenor Gallery Winter Exhibition, 1889, were cloud studies, dated 6 September and 28 September 1822 respectively; the latter measured 9 x 11 ins. and had a description of the weather on the back. Both these sketches were lent by the executors of Miss Isabel Constable.

Exhibition History

Constable: a breath of fresh air (The Millennium Galleries, Sheffield 08/02/2003-27/04/2003)
John Constable, selected by Lucian Freud (Grand Palais 10/10/2002-13/01/2003)
Constable's Clouds: Paintings and Cloud Studies by John Constable (National Galleries of Scotland 11/08/2000-29/10/2000)
Constable's Clouds: Paintings and Cloud Studies by John Constable (Walker Art Gallery 28/04/2000-16/07/2000)


Paper; Oil paint


Oil painting

Subjects depicted




Collection code


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