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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
  • Enlarge image

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:

    Paintings, Room 88, The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries, case WEST WALL

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
Hoozee, Robert (ed.), British Vision. Observation and Imagination in British Art 1750-1950, Brussels : Mercatorfonds ; Ghent : Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 2007
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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