John Constable (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776–1837 Hampstead)
Study for “The Leaping Horse,” ca. 1824–25
Oil on canvas
8 3/8 × 10 5/8 in. (21.2 × 27 cm)
Promised Gift from the Collection of Elizabeth and Jean-Marie Eveillard
Photo Joseph Coscia Jr.
One of the most significant landscape painters in British history, John Constable is best known for his scenes of the pre-industrial English countryside. This oil sketch was made in preparation for The Leaping Horse, the last of Constable’s celebrated “six-footers,” a series of large-scale paintings of scenes along the River Stour in the artist’s native Suffolk, known since his lifetime as “Constable country.” It is one of a number of drawn and painted sketches related to the final painting (Royal Academy of Arts, London), which was exhibited in 1825 and depicts the moment a barge horse (used to tow barges along waterways) leaps over a cattle fence blocking a towpath at river’s edge. It may have been in the present sketch that Constable first gave form to the idea of adding to the horse a rider, who in urging the animal over the fence strikes a dramatic pose—reminiscent of an equestrian portrait—lauded as a “stroke of genius.”
Curator's Personal Reflection
Speaker: Aimee Ng, Curator
This is the only painting in the Eveillard gift, and it captures Constable’s deft brushwork, even in this small scale. A squiggle of white paint brings to life the billowing sleeve of the rider atop the leaping horse; puffy clouds part to reveal flecks of blue sky beyond. It’s amazing to think of this little study made in preparation for Constable’s final and most dramatic “six-footer” painting, how he captures in this eight-by-ten-inch canvas the monumentality and vitality of a final painting so big it feels like you could walk into it. Looking at this small oil sketch closely, one can get a sense of how richly the artist layered his paints, colors beneath breaking through colors on top: nothing rests flatly on the canvas’s surface, every element seems to move, pulse, sway—just like the cool, windy day in the English countryside Constable captures here.