A painting of sandy mountains with people resting on a ridge.

Sky as subject: picturing the aerial

John Constable
(English, 1776–1837)
High Clouds, c. 1821–22
Watercolor and graphite on white wove paper
The Clark, Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.8.55

Armed with a new understanding of the atmosphere’s materiality and dimensionality, nineteenth-century artists turned their attention upward. John Constable and J. M. W. Turner recorded the momentary effects of cloud formations and movements. Their closely observed studies served multiple purposes: as drawing activities rooted in artistic curiosity, as exercises to perfect technique, and as studies for much larger compositions in oil. British and French printmakers throughout the century utilized different intaglio techniques—etching, drypoint, and mezzotint—to convey a tactile heft and volume to the clouds and ambient airspace in their respective prints. Although modest in scale, these printed impressions convey the seeming boundlessness of the skyscape.