Skip to Content

Dedham Lock and Mill

Showing 1 of 1


Dedham Lock and Mill

oil on canvas
21 1/2 in. x 30 1/2 in. (54.61 cm x 77.47 cm)
Currier Funds, 1949.8

John Constable



In this painting of a peaceful English landscape, John Constable depicts the Dedham mill in the middle ground, with its water wheel visible under a small, shed roof at the side of the building. In the distance, at the center of the picture, is the tower of the Dedham church. The sail of a boat by the mill is similar in shape to the sail on the boat in the left foreground (with its large anchor), creating a diagonal line through the picture. Completing the triangular arrangement, a clump of trees, sheltering a group of horses, anchors the right of the picture. The pulling harnesses and tow rope in the foreground indicate that the horses are tow horses, resting while the boats are taken through the locks by a man dressed in red. Constable’s typically dramatic sky (he once called the sky an “organ of sentiment”) creates varied light in the picture—in the reflection on the mill pond as well as in the variety of greens in the trees and grass, which range from almost yellow to nearly black. The mill pond itself, with only tiny ripples and birds marring its surface, adds to this light, reflecting not only the sky, but also the reddish bricks of the mill.

Context and Analysis

Constable grew up in Suffolk, England, very close to this corn mill, which was owned by his father. The mill was located on the River Stour, a major transportation artery used to move goods between the inland areas and the sea. As a young man in the early 1800s, Constable lived in London, training at the Royal Academy and working at religious painting and portraiture, the prevalent modes of British painting taught at the academy. After about 1810, he returned to the countryside and began painting rural scenes. A few of these received critical notice, and he gained a few commissions and sales, which encouraged him to paint more agricultural landscapes.

Constable’s pencil sketches of the mill date from this period of renewed attention to the countryside. Several pencil drawings and oil sketches of this subject exist, indicating Constable’s effort in composing the scene. There are four painted versions of this picture. The first was exhibited and sold at the British Institution in 1819. Shortly after its sale Constable was elected an associate of the Royal Academy; perhaps this new affiliation explains why he wrote “London” under his signature in the second version, the one now in the Currier collection. Neither the Currier’s painting nor the third finished picture of the subject sold during his lifetime. After the artist’s death, his daughter gave this picture to Jane Spedding, whose father had been Constable’s solicitor and close family friend, and whose family helped care for the Constable children after their father’s death. 1

According to an 1821 letter, Constable spoke of his attraction to rural subjects: “The sound of water escaping from mill-dams &c. willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickworks, I love such things.” 2 Constable took these features of the native English countryside and its traditional laborers, and made them the subject of his oil paintings.


Romantic paintings of the early 1800s, like those of Constable, influenced American landscape painters, most notably Thomas Cole. In works such as Mill Dam on Catskill Creek (Currier, 2002.20.19 ), Cole placed picturesque buildings in a wilderness landscape, meant to represent the New World. Later landscape painters, such as Albert Bierstadt in Moat Mountain, Intervale, New Hampshire (Currier, 1947.3) and Martin Johnson Heade in Marshfield Meadows (Currier, 1962.13), followed his lead with agrarian subjects. Dutch landscape paintings, such as Jacob van Ruisdael’s View of Egmond-on-the-Sea (Currier, 1950.4), also offer an interesting comparison to Constable’s work. Like Constable, Ruisdael pays attention to landscape, dramatic skies, and topography, including the buildings and labors of the countryside.

Written by Melissa Geisler Trafton

1 Letter from R. B. Beckett to the Currier, February 14, 1955.
2 Letter from Constable to Archdeacon Fisher, October 23, 1821, as quoted in letter from C. R. Leslie to Maria Louisa Constable, January 19, 1841.


Beckett, R. B. “Constable’s Dedham Mill.” Burlington Magazine 97, no. 623 (February 1955).

Beckett, R. B. “Constable’s Lock.” Burlington Magazine 94, no. 594 (September 1952): 252–59.

“Dedham Mill.” Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin (April 1950).

Warner, Malcolm, and Robyn Asleson. Great British Paintings from American Collections. New Haven, CT: Yale Center for British Art, 2001.

1949 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Monet and the Beginnings of Impressionism." Oct. 8 - Nov. 6, cat. no. 1.
1961 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, "25th Birthday." Jan. 13 - March 5.

1963 "Masters of Landscape East & West." Organized by the Munson-Williams Proctor Institute and the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery. Traveled to: Munson-Williams Proctor Institute, Utica, NY, Sept. 15 - Oct. 13; Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY, Nov. 1 - Dec. 1.

1968-1969 Royal Academy of Arts, London, England, "Bicentenary Exhibition." Dec. 1968 - March 1969.

1972 "To Look at Nature." Organized by Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art and Brown University. Traveled to: Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, Providence, RI, Feb. 3 - Mar. 5; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, March 13 - May.

1972 Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, "Painting, Sculpture and Decorative Arts from the Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire." May 14 - June 20.

1976 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, "Constable: Symposium and Exhibition Commemorating the 200th Anniversity of His Birth." April 2 - 3.

1978 Wildenstein & Co., New York, NY, "Romance and Reality." Oct. 17 - Nov. 25.

1979 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, "Small Gallery on a Large Scale." June 16 - July 29.

1986 Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 11 - Nov. 2.

1988 Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., New York, NY, "John Constable." May 9 - June 25.

1991 Tate Gallery of Art, London, England, "Constable." June 13 - Sept. 15.

1991-1992 "Corot to Monet, The Rise of Landscape Painting in France." Organized by the Currier Gallery of Art. Traveled to: Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, Jan. 29 - April 28, 1991; IBM Gallery of Science and Art, New York, NY, July 30 - Sept. 28, 1991; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX, Nov. 10, 1991 - Jan. 5, 1992.

2001-2002 "Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney." Organzied by the Yale Center for British Art. Traveled to Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, Sept. 26 - Dec. 30, 2001; Huntington Library and Art Museum, San Marino, CA, Feb. 3 - May 5, 2002.

2006 "Constable: The Six-foot Canvases" National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Oct. 1 - Dec. 31; Huntinton Museum of Art, San Marino, CA, Jan. 30 - April 23, 2007.

2007 Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, Extended Loan of European and American Paintings. April - Nov.

2017 Davis Museum of Art, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA. loan for permanent gallery installation. Jan. - July.

Daughter of the artist
Gift to Jane Spedding (daughter of Constable’s solicitor)
Purchased by Thomas Agnew and Son, Ltd., London
Purchased by M. Knoedler and Co., New York, NY
Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 1949

Your current search criteria is: Object is "Dedham Lock and Mill".