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One of the great pleasures and benefits of volunteering in the museum is the amount one learns (or not!) from the visiting public.

Following on from my previous blog on ‘Constable’s Wagon’ (17th January) I accessed the website for the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) at the University of Reading, which has photographs of various county farm carts.

This does show a ‘Wiltshire cart’ which has broad similarities to the wagon in Constable’s ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831’, in that the front wheels are smaller than the rear, and the structure curves over the front and rear wheels. However, as can be seen from the illustration below, the curve is nowhere near as pronounced as depicted by Constable:

Wiltshire cart

A visitor suggested that perhaps commentators have ‘got it wrong’ in referring to it as a ‘Wiltshire wagon’ and that it is really a Suffolk wagon – Constable’s home county. However, the illustration of a Suffolk wagon on the MERL website is quite dissimilar:

Suffolk cart

Thus, I do believe that Timothy Wilcox was partially correct in his  book/catalogue ‘Constable and Salisbury, The Soul of Landscape’ (p152) in which he implies that Constable used artistic licence in the appearance of the wagon, to allow the eye to follow through the curves in the painting. However, we now know from Professor John E. Thornes lecture on ‘A Reassessment of the Solar Geometry of Constable’s Rainbow’ that this was not to predict/preempt  the spectacular appearance of the rainbow, as the rainbow was only painted in a year after the painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy; in order to mark the death of his great friend, Archdeacon John Fisher.

The most common reaction of visitors entering Gallery 2 (containing Constable’s great painting) was to stand stock still at the entrance and exclaim “Wow!”

Many visitors commented on how privileged they had been to be able to view this painting, on its own on the wall (in contrast to the situation when it goes to The Tate Gallery, when it could just become ‘one of many’) and in the absence of a large crowd. I certainly feel very privileged as an Engagement Volunteer to be in the presence of this great painting for 1.5 hours every week, and to share the joy of all our visitors.