The White Horse
© The Frick Collection
Oil painting of landscape with boat on river
Close up of horse in boat in oil painting of landscape
English (US)
In this wide expanse of canvas, nothing very remarkable occurs. To the left, a white tow horse is being ferried across the river Stour in Suffolk, at the point where the path switches banks. To the right, cattle come down to the river's edge for water. A cluster of farm buildings is seen through the trees, and in the foreground, a variety of plants and old wooden posts--all closely observed--are lovingly delineated. The setting was intimately familiar to Constable, whose father owned and operated mills in nearby Dedham. It was such scenes, he later said, that "made me a painter." Yet it is not the subject matter per se but the freshness with which it is depicted that arrests our attentions. Using a palette knife and brush, the artist applied paint in a variety of rough and smooth strokes and dots to suggest the shimmering of light filtered through clouds, and reflected on water and foliage. We can almost feel the moisture in the air. The White Horse is the first of a number of paintings which Constable called his "six-footers." He painted them for display at the Royal Academy, working them up in the studio from sketches made on the spot. This was also one of his favorite paintings. He even bought it back from the owner. As Constable himself noted, "There are generally in the life of an artist perhaps one, two, or three pictures, on which hang more than usual interest--this is mine."

The White Horse

John Constable (1776–1837)
Date: 1819
Medium: Oil on canvas (lined)
51 3/4 x 74 1/8 in. (131.4 x 188.3 cm)
Framed: 63 1/2 × 86 1/4 in. (161.3 × 219.1 cm)
Credit Line: Purchased by The Frick Collection, 1943
Accession number:1943.1.147
Additional Information
The painting depicts a tow-horse being ferried across the river Stour in Suffolk, just below Flatford Lock at a point where the tow-path switched banks. Constable, who described the scene as "as placid represtentation of a serene, grey morning, summer," went on in later years to comment: "There are generally in the life of an artist perhaps one, two or three pictures, on which hang more than usual interest-- this is mine." The painting was well received when it was shown at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1819, and it was purchased by Constable's friend Archdeacon John Fisher. Constable bought back the painting in 1829 and kept it the rest of his life. There is a full-scale oil sketch for The White Horse in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Source: Art in The Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.
Archdeacon Fisher, purchased from the artist in 1819 for £100. Bought back by Constable in 1830. Constable sale May 15-16, 1838, London, Lot 77, Sold for £157 10s to Morton. L. Archer Burton, Woodlands, Hampshire. Burton Archer-Burton sale, March 31, 1855, Christie's, Lot 99, sold for £630 to Hodgson. Richard Hemming, London. His sale, April 28, 1894, Christie's, Lot 84, sold for £6,510 to Agnew. J. Pierpont Morgan (1894). Knoedler, Frick, 1943.

Source: Paintings in The Frick Collection: American, British, Dutch, Flemish and German. Volume I. New York: The Frick Collection, 1968.