These are my notes on the drawing above:
John Constable (1776-1837) - Trees at East Bergholt (1817)
This careful drawing of black poplar trees on the towpath near Flatford Mill was made on 17 October 1817. Constable’s painting, A Scene on a Navigable River (now known as Flatford Mill, Tate Britain) had been shown at the Royal Academy earlier that year, but had come back to Constable unsold. He was evidently dissatisfied with his painting of the trees, and made this drawing to assist himself in a repainting of part of the canvas. The drawing is on the same scale as the painting, and it is faintly squared for transfer.
For a long time it was thought that these trees were elms, and they have only recently been identified as black poplars, a relatively rare tree. Constable’s friend, the etcher Jacob George Strutt, described the black poplar as a classical tree, held by the ancients to be sacred to Hercules. He wrote that in calm weather ‘drops of water … hang upon its leaves, with the refreshing coolness of a summer shower.’
Comparison with other drawings by Constable of the same trees shows that he delineated their branches very accurately, recording idiosyncracies that might have been seen as defects, such as the stumps on the foreground tree where branches have been cut off, and the irregular silhouette of the further tree.
Constable made many beautiful drawings of trees. Some of the best examples are in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection: Elm Trees in Old Hall Park, East Bergholt (1817) and Fir Trees at Hampstead (1820) may also be seen in the Study Room, on request.
So if you are in the V and A (perhaps looking at their new display on trees in children's book illustrations, www.vam.ac.uk/event/noKN2PwQ/into-the-woods-trees-in-illustration), and you have time to go into the Study Room, do ask for the topic boxes on Trees.