During his honeymoon in 1816 Constable painted a number of oil sketches of the Dorset coast, including two sketches of Bowleaze Cove in Weymouth Bay. He later worked up this exhibition picture based on one of those outdoor sketches (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). He showed the curve of the bay, with a cliff in the foreground and hills beyond, and depicted a dense mass of cloud over the sea nearing the coast. Passages of sunlight in the sky light up the hills and the bay. Some time between 1819 and 1830 Constable extended his original painting by adding strips of canvas at the top and left to give a greater expanse of sea and sky. It was this version of the oil painting that Lucas used as a basis for the mezzotint, Weymouth Bay, Dorsetshire .
In his biography of Constable, Andrew Shirley remarked:
He recorded a dramatic moment at Weymouth … broken storm-clouds pass over an unquiet sea, where the earth’s safe helmet of grass ends abruptly at the bright cliffs. Years later, in a mezzotint, he transformed the scene into a parable of his life; he discarded from the first picture the certainty that light will return, and left instead a storm that dulled the pleasant green of the land, obliterated the cliffs, and denied the possibility of hope (Shirley 1949, p. 103).
George III visited Weymouth in 1789, when it was recorded that on viewing the bay for the first time the king exclaimed: ‘I never enjoyed a sight so pleasing.’ The king’s regular visits to Weymouth established the town as a flourishing health and pleasure resort.
This painting has been the subject of controversy. In 1907 P.M. Turner questioned its authenticity (P.M. Turner, ‘The representation of the British School in the Louvre I’, Burlington Magazine, X, March 1907, p. 341), as did Robert Hoozee. However Reynolds, in his 1984 catalogue raisonné, made a good case for this painting being the work that Constable exhibited at the British Institution in 1819 as Osmington Shore, near Weymouth.