5th September 1822. Cloudy Today.
‘Is there enough blue in the sky to make a Dutchman a pair of trousers’?: Old Saying.
Today John Constable wrote on the back of one of his cloud studies: ‘5th of September 1822. 10 o’clock, morning, looking south-east, brisk wind at west. Very bright and fresh grey clouds running fast over a yellow bed, about halfway in the sky. Very appropriate to the Coast of Osmington’.
Between 1821 and 1822 Constable made a hundred small cloud studies the majority done in oils. He would date each one of them, on the back, adding the time of the day, the direction of the wind and any other useful information.
Constable was helped by his friendship with Quaker apothecary, Luke Howard FRS, the 19thc polymath meteorologist. In 1803 Howard published a treatise, ‘On the Modification of Clouds’, which classified the various formations using the Linnaean pattern of classification and presented his work to the Askesian Society, co-founded by Howard.(1)
Constable produced a series of views showing cloud formations across London in 1821 and 1822, but whether it is the skies over Brighton, Weymouth or Hampstead Heath, or the flat, sky-filled landscape of his native Suffolk, it is the clouds that dominate.
The dramatic effect of fine dust, from the Sahara, on cloud colour was observed on November 26th 1979 and proved to be one of the rarest and most lurid sunset seen in the English evening sky, when it turned bright pink then mauve deepening into purple over a large part of the south-east and the ‘Constable Country’ of East-Anglia.
The whole effect, for ten minutes, depended on a cloud formation of two layers, an upper layer of alto-cumulus and a thin and broken layer of stratus lower down, crucial to the appearance of the gaudy purple rather than a red glow.
As always Shakespeare had something to say on the subject, particularly concerning shapes in clouds-Pareidolia-suggesting other objects.
In Act III of Hamlet, showing the obsequious nature of the courtier Polonius: Hamlet: ‘Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?’
Polonius: ‘By the mass, and ‘tis like a camel, indeed.’
Hamlet: ‘Methinks it is like a weasel.’
Polonius: ‘It is backed like a weasel.’
(1) In 1834 an international committee met at Upsala in Sweden to devise an accepted cloud nomenclature: From the Latin: Cirrus (fibre); Cumulus (heap); Stratus (layer), which are still used today.
john-constable.org/Pic of Hampstead.
usia.com/Pic of Pareidolia.
wholeearthprovision/Pic of clouds.
cloudsat.atmosphere/Pic of clouds.
wikipedia.org/luke_howard/ and john_constable.