This painting is the second version of A ploughing scene in Suffolk (A summerland). The owner of the first version of 1814 , John Allnutt, a Clapham wine merchant and collector, became unhappy with the sky in his painting and asked another artist, John Linnell, to overpaint it. Some years later, around 1825, Allnutt admitted: ‘I was foolish enough’ to have Constable’s original sky ‘obliterated’ and that, ‘though extremely beautiful’, the new sky ‘did not quite harmonize with the other parts of the picture’ (Beckett I, p. 83). He asked Constable to restore the original sky and, ‘if he could do it without injury to the picture’ reduce the height of the painting to match another work in his collection (Augustus Callcott, Open landscape: Sheep grazing c.1812, York City Art Gallery).
Graciously, Constable took back Allnutt’s pictureand painted a second and slightly smaller version for him – this painting. He did this free of charge because he was grateful to Allnutt for ‘buying the first picture he ever sold to a stranger’ (Beckett I, p. 83).
Constable, or his assistant Dunthorne, made extensive underdrawing on this canvas, working directly from the 1814 original, following the first version closely. He gave this painting a cooler tonality, and added the rain falling in the distance. Ian St John has suggested that the bird hovering in the sky is ‘a bird of prey such as a kestrel or sparrowhawk, birds still common in the vale’ (St John 2005, p. 31).
The work was finished before January 1825 when Allnutt visited Constable’s studio to view the new version. Allnutt visitedagain the following year, when he brought a present of three sorts of a particularly beautiful ultramarine, which was a generous gift, as the pigment was a rare luxury. In October 1826 Constable visited Allnutt at Clapham and spent an enjoyable day with the Allnutt family, viewing their picture collection and taking a walk on Clapham Common. He wrote in his journal on his return that ‘Nothing could be more polite & kind’, and observed that ‘the truth is I could find that he has been much imposed on by artists in general – & that he was pleased with my conduct’ (Beckett I, p. 85).
After Constable’s death Allnutt continued to purchase his works, including pictures from the Constable sale in 1838: Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds 1820(National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa) and Helmington Dell 1830 (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City, Missouri)(Beckett I, p. 85).