As a boy Constable often passed by this cottage, at the end of Fen Lane, when he walked down the lane on his way to school at Dedham. The cottage belonged to Peter Godfrey of Old Hall, East Bergholt, and one of his workmen probably lived in it. It had been demolished by 1885 (St John 2002, p. 29).
Constable made two versions of this subject, the first painted largely outdoors in the vicinity of East Bergholtduring the summer of 1815 and completed in 1833(Victoria and Albert Museum, London), and this second version painted in his studio in London towards the end of 1816 or the beginning of 1817. He made a number of changes to the image, showing the scene at high summer with the field full of ripe corn, changing the quality of the light, adding the figure beside the cottage on the left, and the donkey and foal standing to the right of the gate. He probably relied on the drawing he had made of this subject around 1815 . As Ian Fleming-Williams and Leslie Parris have shown, the most marked difference between the painting of 1815/1833and this work is the way in which Constable painted the trees on the right. In this painting he appears to have based his trees on those in Martino Rota’s engraving after Titian’s Martyrdom of St Peter Martyr (destroyed), a work Constable greatly admired (Fleming-Williams and Parris 1984, pp. 138–41). Thus, even during a period when he was working close to nature, Constable combined different elements in his paintings in order to improve his composition.
In his biography of Constable, Andrew Shirley perceptively remarked that it was ‘a picture compact with the true sentiment of observation, playing the contrast of the remoteness of human habitation against the thick, ripening, jungle life of the corn surging up to the walls of the cottage’ (Shirley 1949, p. 105).