Constable included the church, with its imposing fifteenth-century tower, in a number of drawings around 1810–14. At this time he also painted an oil sketch, Stoke-by-Nayland 1810–11 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), showing the church from the other side of a meadow, with a woodland on the right and a figure carrying a sheaf in the foreground. However Constable did not include the rainbow over the church in this sketch. Between 1829–35 he made a loose drawing of the subject, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk , without the figure in the foreground, but with a double rainbow over the church tower. Although there is no recognised oil sketch for this mezzotint, Lucas probably used the 1810–11 oil sketch when he started work on the plate in December 1829. He made many changes to the plate before it was published.
In this print Constable wanted to capture ‘the solemn stillness of Nature in a Summer’s Noon, when attended by thunder-clouds’, and he hoped to add interest to it by including the rainbow. He noted that ‘Nature, in all the varied aspects of her beauty, exhibits no feature more lovely nor any that awaken a more soothing reflection than the Rainbow’ (Beckett, Discourses, pp. 21–22).
Heysen wrote to Harold Wright:
It’s jolly good if you want to give me the ‘Stoke by Neyland’ and I much appreciate your kind thought. I had always hesitated about this print – as the repro in the Constable book – made no particular appeal – but I wavered when I saw it in Dr Shirley’s catalogue – had put it on my list for future consideration (Heysen, 1948?, NLA MS 5073/1/7190).
And later he commented: ‘Again do I thank you for the Neyland print – its interesting to have it & as a foil to the proofs – its surprising how the interest lessens by everything being “just so” or is it the spacing of this composition – both I should think – and it still leaves me half hearted’ (ibid., 23 February 1948, NLA MS 5073/1/5594).
The Australian artist Arthur Streeton owned a painting of this subject, which he believed to be by Constable, but which was probably painted after the mezzotint. Streeton also owned a copy of the published mezzotint.