10 May—1 September 2024

National Treasures: Constable in Bristol “Truth to Nature”

The Hay Wain by John Constable is at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery on loan from The National Gallery. Constable’s iconic landscape is the centrepiece in a bold exhibition “Truth to Nature,” which features more than 80 artworks and runs across three galleries.

Painted in 1821 The Hay Wain is an icon of English landscape art. It has been widely reproduced, copied, satirised and politicised. But this image of rural tranquility was painted at the height of the Industrial Revolution and at a time when land was being sold after the Enclosures Acts: life was changing dramatically for many. “Truth to Nature” explores how landscape has inspired artists from Constable to the present day. Starting with Constable’s The Hay Wain, the exhibition also includes oil sketches by Constable from the Victoria & Albert Museum alongside many rarely seen pieces from Bristol Museum & Art Gallery’s extensive collection.

We contextualise Constable with an early landscape from the 1600s by Jacob van Ruisdael, showing how Constable’s devotion to naturalism signaled a departure from traditional approaches to landscape as a setting for religious or mythological images. “Truth to Nature” also shows Constable’s influence with examples from the Bristol School and 19th century French art. Modernist landscapes from the 20th century by Christopher Wood and Ivon Hitchens sit alongside a conceptual land piece by Richard Long, and abstract landscape by the St Ives artist Peter Lanyon.

This exhibition examines how artists have seen the land as a place of refuge, but also as hostile to humans. We will also show artists’ awareness of human destruction of the land.

“Truth to Nature” will be accompanied by free thought-provoking exhibitions.

  • Listening in the Dark by Maeve Brennan explores the nocturnal life of bats.
  • Borderlands will examine the challenges of divided lands.
  • Charlotte Prodger presents LGBT relations to nature in LHB.
  • Ian Chamberlain’s contemporary ruins chart the Atlantic Wall.
  • Yto Barrada’s Sleepers photographs of migrants are a stark vision of the barriers to movement across the land.

A series of talks and events accompanies “Truth to Nature”, including Solstice, the museum’s late opening on 20 June with Booty Bass DJs, storytelling, magical mystery tours and making activities. Look out for workshops for Home Educators, an awe-inspiring choir performance on 11 July, curator’s talks, a play inspired by the painting at Blaise, and a programme of multi-sensory accessible tours and storytelling for adults and families.

2024 is the 200th anniversary of the National Gallery, London and to mark it they are sending twelve of their greatest paintings to 12 museums and art galleries in the UK. Canaletto, Vermeer, Velasquez, Botticelli, Turner and more will be on tour to Aberystwyth, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Cambridge, and Newcastle. The Hay Wain is coming to Bristol, perhaps because of Bristol’s own history of landscape art.

Audio descriptions

Audio descriptions are available alongside the exhibition for visually impaired visitors. These are accessible via QR code on your mobile device and we recommend bringing earphones with you to listen. Alternatively the audio files can be found below.

Bristol Exhibition Sponsors

With thanks to HR World, The CR Group and Maru for sponsoring the Bristol exhibition.

With thanks

This exhibition has been made possible with thanks to The National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum.


V & A

Book tickets

Full price (adults 25+)– £12 weekdays, £13 weekends
Concessions* – £9.50
Art Fund members – £8
Under 16s – Free

Ticket prices include a voluntary donation to Bristol Museums Development Trust (charity no. 1137777)

*Concessions available for people over 65, NHS staff, students and 16-24s (except Wednesdays – see below), unemployed people and disabled people. Carers go free. ID required for concession tickets.

Students and 16-24 year olds get 50% off a full price ticket on Wednesdays with a valid ID.

Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Last entry is one hour before closing.

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Additional information

Higher Light Level Viewings
Between 10am and 12 noon every Wednesday, the light levels will be made brighter to improve the viewing experience for visitors with visual impairments.