Watcher of the skies: John Constable, painter and meteorologist

A surprising amount of classic painting turns out to have specific, often literary meaning, even in genres which tend to strike us as innocent observations of reality. Dutch flower paintings, for instance, might be celebrations of wealth or contemplations of mortality; still lifes were seldom just renderings of a few bits of fruit and vegetables lying around on the kitchen table; and landscapes were hardly ever merely depictions of handsome tracts of land, whether by Rembrandt or Richard Wilson. John Constable’s work, which rarely emphasises explicit significance, was something new. There were occasional ventures into metaphor and symbolism, such as the late painting ‘Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua