National Treasures: Constable in Bristol “Truth to Nature” events 

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

by Julia Carver – Curator, Art 

We’re incredibly excited for the National Treasures: Constable in Bristol “Truth to Nature” exhibition. Opening to the public at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery on Friday 10 May, it features The Hay Wain as a centre piece, on loan from the National Gallery. 

the haywain painting by constable

The Hay Wain by John Constable

Painted by John Constable in 1821, The Hay Wain is an English landscape painting that has been widely reproduced, copied, satirised and politicised. Constable painted it when he was 45 after what I tend to think of as his long apprenticeship to landscape. He wanted to paint, from nature, with studies made in the open air. It’s perhaps not well known that the painting was first truly successful in France, where he was described by the Romantic artist Delacroix as the ‘master of modern landscape painting’.  

I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to defamiliarize this iconic painting in our exhibition. By that I mean that I hope visitors will have the space to reflect on and reevaluate this painting we think we know so well. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see The Hay Wain up close and understand, with Constable’s loose handling of paint, why it was such a radical painting in its time.   

We’ll be showing the picture in the context of historic and modern landscape art. This includes some of Constable’s oil sketches of clouds on loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum.    

With our wide-ranging collections from Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, we’re also able to show the kind of art that Constable was looking at – especially landscape art from the Netherlands. We then examine Constable’s influence on painting through to the 20th century. Concluding with 21st century installation art, the exhibition explores the meaning of landscape. It explores how artists have considered humanity’s relationship to nature historically. It then looks at how landscape art today is responding to the climate crisis, class, LGBT identity, colonialism and migration.    

To accompany the exhibition we’ve developed an exciting programme of events. People will be able to hear more from some of the artists involved, including our best-known Land artist Richard Long. There will be a panel event, ‘On Landscape’, with artists Ben Rivers, Andy Holden, Bharti Parmar and decolonial academic Corinne Fowler. We hope that this will involve getting to grips with some of the issues raised in the exhibition. Artist Maeve Brennan will discuss her film ‘Listening in the Dark’ with outgoing director of Film and Video Umbrella Steven Bode (who also produced it).  

A misty forest with bare trees, in the middle stands a stone arch made of three rectangular stones.

Origin of the Species, moving image by Ben Rivers

For those looking for an immersive evening of song inspired by nature, we have In Accord’s choral performance. This will have Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’ as its focal point. For families there will be free sketching at the end of May and throughout August. Keep an eye on our What’s On listings for more information on these.  

July and August see curatorial tours by Dr Mary McMahon from the National Gallery on Constable and landscape, and myself on the show as a whole. At Blaise Museum there’ll be a spectacular live theatre interpretation of The Hay Wain by Packing Shed Theatre. Last but not least, look out for announcements about our solstice themed Museum at Night event on, you’ve guessed it, the summer solstice on 20 June. This is a unique chance to explore the museum after dark and behind the scenes, where the building takes on a whole new aspect.  

Hope to see you there…  


See the full National Treasures: Constable in Bristol “Truth to Nature” events list

With thanks

We’re very grateful to The National Gallery for sponsorship of the events programme through their NG200 celebrations of the gallery’s bicentenary. 

national gallery logo


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