The Hay-Wain, for which the preceding picture is the sketch, is the third of Constable's large river scenes and the best known. It might never have been painted had it not been for Farington. The latter records in his diary of November 21, 1820: "Constable brought a new begun picture, 'A view on the Thames on the day of opening Waterloo Bridge.' At his request for my opinion I recommended to him to proceed on and complete for the Exhibition a subject more corresponding with his successful picture exhibited last May".
Constable took his advice, put off finishing Waterloo Bridge, and started at once on The Hay-Wain. Although, as we have seen, he could paint a small picture for which he had a model in one or two days, the large paintings he sent to the Royal Academy usually took him six or seven months. In this case he had only five months before the exhibition, but it was a scene and a countryside he knew well. The Mill Stream was a similiar subject, and every aspect of Willy Lott's house on the left of the picture was familiar. There is a sketch by Constable which whows the cottage with a black-and-white dog similiar to the puppy in The Hay-Wain, running toward the spectator. Other studies made over the years were brought together in the final painting.
The exact appearance of the hay-wain, however, troubled Constable and he wrote his brother for help. Abram replied that he was sending "John Dunthorne's outlines of a scrave or harvest waggon... I hope you will have your picture ready but from what I saw I have faint hopes of it, there appear'd everything to do."
Despite Abram's doubts the picture was ready and was shown at the Academy as Landscape - Noon. Writing to Fisher, Constable said, "The present picture is not so grand as Tinny's owning perhaps to the masses not being so impressive - the power of the Chiaro Oscuro is lessened - but it has rather a more novel look than I expected."
The Hay-Wain did not find a buyer at the Academy, but its success in France has been described. Constable read translations made by Maria of the criticism in the French press. In a letter to Fisher he called the critics, "very amusing and acute - but very shallow and feeble. Thus one - after saying, 'it is but justice to admire the truth - the color - and general vivacity and richness' - yet they want the objects more formed and defined... However, certain it is they [his paintings] have made a decided stir, and have set all the students in landscape thinking - they say on going to begin a landscape, Oh! this shall be a la Constable!!!"
He might, however, have remarked of those Parisian landscapists, as he once said of their London colleagues, "with all their ingenuity as artists [they] know nothing of the feeling of a country life (the essence of Landscape) - any more than a hackney coach horse knows of pasture."