John Constable – Dedham Mill

The picture of Dedham Mill, Essex, No. 34 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is dated 1820, but it bears traces of Constable’s study of the Dutch masters, and so may have been begun and laid aside again some four or five years earlier. It is very quiet and harmonious in tone, and in its truthful representation of a peaceful rural scene greatly resembles the Flatford Mill. Here again there is none of that searching after movement, or the glitter of sunlight which fills the bolder work of the last decade of his life. The fine group of trees on the right has been faithfully copied from nature, with an elaboration of detail suggestive of Hobbema. It is a picture of green summer, diversified by the reddish hues of the mill-building, with its great wheel, in the centre of the composition, and the flapping sail of the boat seen in part under the bank in the left foreground. The gray water of the mill-pool reflects a pale cloudy sky, in which an approaching storm of rain is driving up from the horizon. In the distance the tower of Dedham Church stands out clearly against the white clouds. Here, too, the flat meadows, through which the barges are approaching the locks, lie golden under the sunlight. This is one of the quietest and simplest of Constable’s pictures, tender in tone and sympathetic in feeling, in great contrast to the Stratford Mill, with boys fishing, a very striking and powerful work of the same year, which was purchased by Archdeacon Fisher for 100 guineas as a present to a friend, and sixty-five years later fetched 8,5o0 guineas in the auction room. The difference in style and handling between these two canvases seems to indicate an earlier origin than 1820 for the greater part of Dedham Mill.