Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames--Morning After a Stormy Night
The two remaining towers of Hadleigh Castle stand in the left register of the picture plane. Underbrush and foliage have over-grown the crumbling ruins. In the lower left corner, a shepherd boy, staff in hand, walks towards the ruins followed by a dog. To the right of the tower closest to the center of the image, another figure, presumably a cowherd, lounges on the hill that leads down to the water, watching over three cows as they graze on the craggy hillside. Several seagulls fly in a diagonal pattern across the picture plane toward the horizon. Large cumulus clouds nearly cover the sky, rays of sunlight breaking through to illuminate the distant horizon.
Copyright, 2009, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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ProvenanceFirst sold by Constable at Foster’s on 15-16 May, 1838 to Tiffin. It was next sold at Christie’s on June 13, 1851 by Hogarth, who is named as the owner in Bohn’s first edition of English Landscape Scenery, 1855. The painting was owned by Louis Huth from 1863 to 1888 before becoming part of a private American collection until 1960. The work was then sold to Thomas Agnew & Sons, London. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon purchased it in 1961, and later gave the painting to the Yale Center for British Art in 1977 (Reynolds 199).
Exhibition HistoryExhibited in 1829 at the Royal Academy, no. 322
Printing ContextAt the 1829 Royal Academy exhibition, the painting was displayed with a quotation from James Thomson’s The Seasons: “The desert joys / Wildly, through all his melancholy bounds / Rude ruins glitter; and the briny deep, / Seen from some pointed promontory’s top, / Far to the dim horizon’s utmost verge / Restless, reflects a floating gleam” (165-70, 1744 edition).
Associated EventsIn 1814, Constable visited the ruins while touring south Essex with an old friend, the Reverend W.W. Driffield, the vicar of Feering near Colchester. In a letter to his betrothed Maria Bicknell, Constable wrote that “‘there is a ruin of a castle which from its situation is really a fine place—it commands a view of the Kent hills, the nore and north foreland & looking many miles to the sea’” (John Constable’s Correspondence 127). He made a drawing of the view in the sketchbook he was carrying at the time, and based this painting, and its ancillary sketches, upon this primary perception. It is significant that at the time of the initial sketch, Constable was in the midst of the most discouraging stage of his courtship with Maria. This depression is reflected in his aforementioned letter when he writes that he had "walked upon the beach at South End. I was always delighted with the melancholy grandeur of a sea shore" (John Constable’s Correspondence 127). Constable only returned to the sketch after Maria's death in November, 1828. Many scholars believe that this scene of loneliness and decay was especially poignant for Constable in times of desolation. In a letter to C.R. Leslie dated January 21, 1829, Constable writes “I have been ill but I have endeavored to get to work again—and could I get a float on a canvas of six feet I might have a chance of being carried away from myself” (John Constable’s Correspondence 255). A later letter from Abram Constable suggests that it is the composition of Hadleigh Castle that lifted the painter out of his depression: “You will now proceed with your Picture of the Nore—and I think it will be beautiful” (John Constable’s Correspondence 255).
Associated PlacesHadleigh Castle
Hadleigh Castle is a thirteenth-century ruin located approximately 150 feet above the Thames near Southend-on-Sea; it rests on a hill with an abrupt drop to the estuary below. The ruins of two towers form the principle portion of the remains, one at the north-east end and the other at the south-east end. Although they have been considerably reduced in height, the northern tower being nearly demolished, enough of each edifice stands to suggest that they were originally identical in form and construction. The towers are externally circular, internally hexagonal, and are approximately sixty feet apart, at one point having been connected by a wall eight feet thick and twenty feet high; however, very little of the masonry now remains above ground. A local legend also claims that the ruins are haunted “by a lady dressed in white [who is] anxious to divulge the burial place of [a] vast treasure” (White 2). The castle was built by Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, during the reign of Henry III. Hadleigh Castle was one of the four fortified buildings of the Eastern Counties, called “Royal Castles,” that were built for national security (W 168). After a series of repossessions, the castle was finally granted by Edward VI to Richard, Lord Riche; it passed from him to the Bernard family, and they demolished part of the edifice and left the remains to decay (“The Banks of the Thames” 203-4). According to “A Visit to Hadleigh Castle,” an article from the 1866 periodical Once a Week, “[t]he pleasing and extensive prospect which is commanded from Hadleigh Castle, attracts numerous visitors from Southend and the surrounding neighbourhood during the summer months—the picturesque ruin offering great temptations for those who delight in pic-nic parties and such like healthful out-door recreation” (W 168).
Associated TextsConstable, John. Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle.'. 1828-29. Oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom.
---. Sketch of Hadleigh Castle. 1828-29. Oil on millboard. Paul Mellon Collection, Upperville, Virginia.
---. Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle.' 1828-29. Pen and ink. Private Collection (Mr. and Mrs. David Thomson).
---. A Shepherd. Pen and ink. The Horne Foundation Museum, Florence, Italy.
---. Hadleigh Castle, A Distant View. n.d. Oil on canvas. Private Collection, on loan to the City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
SubjectThis image depicts the ruins of Hadleigh Castle in Essex, England.
ThemeRuin. Picturesque. British. Historical consciousness. History. Landscape. Place. Tourism. Travel.
SignificanceIn Literary Landscapes: Turner and Constable, Ronald Paulson links the paintings of John Constable and the poetry of William Wordsworth as both working to create a single artistic revolution. Paulson claims that, like Wordsworth, Constable was revolutionary in “seeking a basic change in the artistic subject and source of inspiration” (107). Although Constable’s landscapes can be linked to the poetic and prose works of the time, his ideological revolution in painting “lies in the elevation of independent landscape, free of both literary texts and the human-centered assumptions of Claude and Turner” (Paulson 108). For Constable, the composition itself could become a text, rendering an already symbolic structure, such as a ruin or temple, more sublime through dramatic perspective, lighting, and brushwork. However, the landscapes of Constable’s final decade, which includes Hadleigh Castle, are far more symbolic than his previous works, and seem to utilize the very techniques he had previously denounced. The painting's potential for symbolism becomes more evident if one examines the personal trauma surrounding its initial conception and later execution: the composition seems infused with Constable's despair over the loss of his wife, and his choice of the ruin as a subject is not insignificant. Several commentators suggest that his awareness of the ruin as an artistic subject and symbol may have come from his reading of Wordsworth’s “Elegiac Stanzas,” and Leslie Parris and Ian Flemming-Williams contend that Wordsworth’s stoic conclusion—“‘Not without hope we suffer and mourn’”—is perfectly aligned with the circumstances surrounding the composition of Hadleigh Castle (314).
BibliographyCormack, Malcolm. Constable. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. Print.
Fleming-Williams, Ian. Constable: Landscape Watercolours & Drawings. London: The Tate Gallery, 1976. Print.
Gray, Thomas. The Traveller's Companion, in a Tour through England and Wales; Containing a Catalogue of the Antiquities, Houses, Parks . . . in England and Wales, Arranged . . . by the late Mr. Gray . . . to Which Are Now Added, Considerable Improvements and Additions, by Thomas Northmore, Esq. London, 1799. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web.
John Constable’s Correspondence, 2 Volumes. Ed. R.B. Beckett. Suffolk Records Society (Vol. I jointly with H.M.S.O). 1962-1968. Print.
Luckombe, Philip. The Beauties of England: Giving a Descriptive View of the Chief Villages, Market-towns, and Cities . . . in England and Wales. Vol. 1. 5th ed. London, 1791. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.
Parris, Leslie and Ian Fleming-Williams. Constable. London: Tate, 1991. Print.
Paulson, Ronald. Literary Landscape: Turner and Constable. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982. Print.
Reynolds, Graham. The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print.
“The Banks of the Thames.” Saturday Magazine 26 Nov. 1842: 203-5. Print.
W. “A Visit to Hadleigh Castle.” Once a Week. 11 Aug. 1866: 166-68. Print.
White, Charles Harold Evelyn, ed. Hadleigh Castle, Essex., East Anglian, or, Notes and queries on subjects connected with the counties of Suffolk, Cambridge, Essex and Norfolk. Vol. 4. Ipswich, 1892. Print.