The Hay Wain by John Constable, 1821, depicts a scene on the River Stour between the English counties of Suffolk and Essex. It is in the National Gallery in London and is regarded as Constable's most famous painting and one of the most popular English paintings today. This popularity make me consider the why of its popularity.
As the cities and their problems grew with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, urban dwellers began to look to
the countryside, not as a place so beset with poverty that folks
were leaving in droves for an uncertain future in the city, but
rather as an idealized vision of Eden. The place where good air,
clean water, open spaces created a moral setting that
contrasted with the perceived evils of urban life.
This Romantic view has nature not as something to be shaped in a
utilitarian sense, but a mysterious unity within which we should
The appeal of the Hay Wain's world continues two centuries later. There the human lifestyle does not conflict with nature, nor could it exist without nature. Constable made this world an ecological system in which every aspect is part of the whole. The Hay Wain is a timeless and seductive dream of lost paradise with a rugged, weather-beaten force of a rural English summer's day. Some god lives in the house beside the eternal river of time. We want to sit on the porch of that house and dangle our toes in the water.
For more than you ever want to know about the painting: click Here