One of the greatest masterpieces of British art, John Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831, is on display at Ipswich’s Christchurch Mansion until the end of January 2016 as part of a UK-wide tour of galleries and museums.

At Christchurch Mansion’s Wolsey Art Gallery, the painting complements Ipswich’s collection of Constables and Gainsborough’s – the most significant collection of works by these masters outside London. It is the first time a major “six-footer” by Constable has been on display in Ipswich.

The display is part of Aspire, a five-year partnership project between five partner institutions supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund to enable the work to go on almost constant view across the UK.

Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831 depicts Salisbury Cathedral under both a heavy cloud and a striking arched rainbow viewed from across the River Nadder. The scene has been interpreted as a metaphor for political pressure felt by the Church of England as well as the emotional turmoil Constable was feeling after the death of his wife.

The painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 1831 and later in a regional exhibition in Birmingham as directed by Constable, who wanted the work to be seen by as many people as possible. The painting had been on view at The National Gallery on long-term loan since 1983 and recently in the Constable Room at Tate Britain before starting its UK tour in Cardiff in March 2014.

John Constable, born and bred in East Bergholt on the Suffolk border, is famous for his landscapes. He said: “I associate my careless boyhood to all that lies on the banks of the Stour. They made me a painter.” He made many open-air sketches, using these as a basis for his large exhibition paintings, which were worked up in the studio. His pictures are popularly accepted as masterpieces of British landscape painting today but during his lifetime huge debate surrounded his ground-breaking techniques.

Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831 is one of a series of monumental “six footer” canvases painted by the artist. This was the scale he reserved for his finest compositions – the paintings he wished to make a great impact in the crowded, competitive hang of the Royal Academy exhibitions.

This work is the most visually spectacular of all the “six footers”, the most loaded in meaning and the one of which he was most proud. Constable called it “The Great Salisbury” and wrote: “I am told I got it to look better than anything I have yet done.” As well as the Salisbury Cathedral painting, there are 16 other Constable paintings which are on permanent display in the Wolsey Gallery at Christchurch Mansion

Entry to Christchurch Mansion is free, click here to visit the Christchurch Mansion website.

+ Sue Bunting

Tue 3 Mar 2015, Milsom Hotels