The title of this remarkably free work, which Reynolds dates circa 1830, derives from the inscription 'Dedham The Sky Lark' on a pencil sketch in the Victoria and Albert Museum (see fig.1). The latter is part of a tiny sketchbook, measuring 3 x 4 in. (8.9 x 12 cm.), which the artist's daughter, Isabel Constable, gave to the South Kensington (later Victoria and Albert) Museum in 1888. In this sketchbook, which the artist completed between July and October 1813, Constable recorded 'a succession of vividly seen images of the countryside and its life, the fruit of an intense communion with Nature at the period when he was separated from Maria Bicknell and could see no prospect of a successful outcome of the love he had felt for so long' (G. Reynolds, Catalogue of the Constable Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1960, p.16). The device of a bird, hovering above a wood in a similar position to the skylark in the drawing, was also to be used again in Landscape: Ploughing Scene in Suffolk, 'A Summerland', of circa 1826 (New Haven, Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection).
The study of the standing cow on the reverse of the present work is believed to date from circa 1820, and it is evident that, as was his occasional practice, Constable has reused the back of an earlier exercise as his support.
Between 1812 and 1813 Constable painted several variants of this particular view of the Stour valley, looking from Langham towards Dedham. In returning to the subject he has replaced detail with form and mood, the only readily identifiable objects being the song-bird itself, the clump of trees on the right and the tower of Dedham Church looming in the distance. Executed entirely with a palette knife, it is a bravura transcript of the earlier drawing.