OIL PAINTING: Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishops' Grounds, 1823
Constable painted this painting - Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishops' Grounds for his friend and patron, Dr John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury. The Bishop is shown in the left foreground pointing out the sunlit Cathedral to his wife, as one of their daughters, Dorothea, advances along the path towards her parents. And as C.R. Leslie noted, Constable included the Suffolk, hornless variety of cow in the grounds (Leslie (1843/45) 1951, p. 96).
Constable painted a magical painting, a sylvan vista of the Cathedral, viewed from the south-west, with an arch of trees framing the spire. It ranks as one of his major paintings. He captured the light on the foliage, and conveyed the air and atmosphere of a summer morning. He wrote: 'Does not the Cathedral look beautiful amongst the Golden foliage? its silvery grey must sparkle in it' (Beckett VI, p. 78).
During a visit to Salisbury in 1811 Constable made three drawings of the Cathedral: from the south-east, from the south-west and from the east end. He used the view from the south-west as the compositional basis for his later paintings in oil. He made further drawings, and an open-air oil sketch of the Cathedral and its surroundings (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), while in Salisbury during July and August 1820 when he stayed with the Bishop's nephew, his friend Archdeacon John Fisher.
In 1823 Constable painted this enlarged version of Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishops' Grounds. It was his most important exhibit at the 1823 Royal Academy exhibition. One critic suggested that 'the landscape and cows are extremely well managed; and speak of that rich fat country ever to be found about the church'; he remarked that 'there is great merit in the picture' and compared it to the work of Hobbema (The London Magazine, June 1823, cit. Ivy 1991, p. 100). Another critic, Robert Hunt, suggested that Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral is so pre-eminent in that 'prime cheerer, light'.