In 1821, Constable wrote to his great friend and patron Bishop Fisher, ‘The sound of water escaping from mill-dams, willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts and brickwork, these scenes made me a painter... Still I should paint my own places best: painting is with me but another word for feeling. I associate my careless boyhood with all that lies on the banks of the Stour. They made me a painter and I am grateful’. Flatford Mill is one such element of the Stour landscape and a leitmotif in Constable’s oeuvre, appearing first in his 1812 Royal Academy entry (Collection of David Thompson), and subsequently in various drawings and oil sketches in the period 1813-1817, culminating in the large Flatford Mill “Scene on a Navigable River”, which he exhibited in 1817 (Tate, London).
Over this time, Constable experimented with various different viewpoints, progressing slowly up-river from the lock in early 1810 sketches, to the present view as seen from the bridge by 1813. This oil sketch relates quite closely to a drawing executed in August 1814 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), and must have been executed prior to 1816, by which point Constable’s drawings show that the right-hand branch of the fork in the main tree had been cut off.
Graham Reynolds assisted in the cataloguing of the picture at the time of the 2006 sale, and we are grateful to Anne Lyles for confirming the attribution after first hand inspection (December 2022).