By Michael Cassin, Director, Center for Education in the Visual Arts
I don’t often get homesick for Britain, but at this point in the year as we prepare for another New England winter, I do occasionally find myself thinking about summer days in “old” England. Constable’s Wheatfield is all it takes to get the nostalgia going.
Wheatfield shows the different stages of a harvest. If you look closely, you can see farm laborers at the far edge of the field, scything through the stems of golden wheat while others follow behind them, binding the wheat into sheaves and gleaning—pulling up individual stalks of grain that the reapers have missed. Even the little boy on the right is contributing something to the collective workload: he and his dog are not simply lazing around in the sun, they are probably guarding everyone’s lunch so the creatures who live in the fields don’t run off with it into the hedgerows.
The wheat harvest was a big event in a rural community. It usually took place in August, when even the British weather might be reasonably warm and dry. But the British climate is famously changeable—I know, believe me, I used to live in Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as here in “Constable Country.” Constable knows it too, and he gets the uncertain weather conditions just right. The summer sun casts warm shadows across the fields, but clouds are gathering in the sky. The workers had better get a move on if they’re going to get the harvest in before the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Image credit: John Constable (English, 1776– 1837), Wheatfield, 1816. Oil on canvas, 21 1/8 x 30 3/8 in. (53.7 x 77.2 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA. Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.8.27