Constable first became interested in depicting local cottages in 1796, when he met the engraver and antiquarian John Thomas Smith, who introduced him to the Picturesque mode of depicting local scenery. He probably painted this oil sketch of a thatched cottage at East Bergholt, Suffolk, some time between 1808 and 1816 when he often worked in the area.
He was fascinated by rainbows and included them in many paintings over the years. This is probably one of his earliest works with a rainbow. Robert Hoozee has suggested that Constable painted this work around 1820–30 when he was most interested in observing atmospheric phenomena; but as Constable’s Lake District watercolours show, he captured weather conditions from at least 1806, and there is no reason to suppose that he would not have depicted a rainbow around 1808–16.
This oil sketch can be compared with Constable’s haunting drawing A reaper, East Bergholt c.1817 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). While the shape of the cottage is different, the two works are similar in the way Constable has placed the cottage in the centre of the composition, rising from a low horizon, surrounded by clumps of trees, beneath a heavily clouded sky. Both images reflect Constable’s feel for the land.
Landscape study, cottage and rainbow can also be compared with one of Constable’s late paintings, A cottage at East Bergholt 1830s (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool). Again in this work the cottage emerges from the fields and surrounding trees, under a stormy sky. Moreover, Constable has included a rainbow – although in the later work it appears on the right of the image rather than on the left as in this sketch. Constable often returned to a subject after many years, and may have done so in this instance, reworking his subject imaginatively.