When describing Constable’s work of 1819–20, his friend and biographer C.R. Leslie reflected that his art at that time ‘was never more perfect, perhaps never so perfect’ (Leslie (1843/45) 1951, p. 72).
In this drawing of a bridge near Salisbury, Constable conveyed the fluctuating effects of light and shadow on the River Avon on a summer’s day. He observed details closely – the reflections on the water and the swallows skimming over it – and captured the tone and texture of
the landscape with considerable precision.
Constable made this drawing on a page from the large sketchbook he used at Salisbury in 1820 and again in the autumn of 1821. Generally he used his sketchbook drawings of a subject as preliminary studies for paintings; in this instance he also painted a sketch of the scene outdoors (private collection).
Harnham Bridge, or Ayleswade Bridge as it was originally called, was built in 1245. It is one of three ancient stone bridges crossing the River Avon and was built to improve access to Salisbury from the south.