‘The Quarters’ in the grounds of Alresford Hall, near Colchester, was used as a picnic, fishing and boating lodge by Constable’s friend and patron, Major-General Francis Slater-Rebow and his family. Slater-Rebow’s father-in-law built the lodge during the 1760s in the fashionable Chinoiserie style at a time when garden pavilions were frequently used for informal parties.
Slater-Rebow commissioned this cabinet picture and a larger companion picture, Wivenhoe Park, Essex (National Gallery of Art, Washington) during Constable’s visit there in July 1816. He returned to paint both works in late August–September. In a letter of 21 August 1816 to Maria Bicknell, Constable mentioned the ‘two small landscapes for the General’ and that one was a ‘scene in a wood with a beautifull little fishing house, where the young Lady (who is the heroine of all these scenes [Mary Rebow]) goes occasionally to angle’ (Beckett II, p. 196). He wrote again to Maria on 30 August describing his reception by the Slater-Rebows, who made him feel ‘quite at home. They often talk of you, because they know it will please me … I am going on very well with my pictures for them’ (ibid., pp. 198–99).
Constable first made a detailed drawing of the subject (Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro), which he used as a basis for preparing the painting. He showed the contrast between the natural landscape of the woodland and the artificiality of the oriental pavilion. He closely observed details during a late summer afternoon, such as the shadows of the trees, the reflections on the still water and the swallows in the sky (A. Inglis, ‘“The Quarters” behind Alresford Hall’,European Masterpieces: Six centuries of paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2000, p. 136).