R.B. Beckett explains the Hay Wain’s reputation among London and Paris audiences and Constable’s dealings with art dealer John Arrowsmith regarding the painting’s sale:
“When the Hay Wain appeared at Somerset House in 1821 it had aroused greater enthusiasm among French visitors who saw it than among the English critics. One of these visitors was Charles Nodier, who praised Constable’s large picture above everything else he saw in the exhibition...Amédée Pichot…had also written home in praise of what he had seen of Constable’s work in 1821. [The art dealer John] Arrowsmith thus had grounds for hoping that he would soon find a purchaser for the Hay Wain in Paris, if he could get it at what seemed to him a reasonable price.
The offer, however, was refused. On the 17th of April Constable wrote again to [his close friend Archdeacon] Fisher: ‘I shall not let the Frenchman have m picture. It is too bad to allow myself to be knocked down by a French man. In short it would fetch my family something one time or another & it [would be] disgracing my diploma to take so small a price & less by over one half than I asked’. After this no more is heard of Arrowsmith for well over a year.
In the meantime Constable’s reputation continued to spread in France. Géricault…had been another visitor to the 8121 exhibition and next year he returned to Paris, to tell his friends of the amazement by which he had been overcome on seeing Constable’s great picture at Somerset House….
On the 17th January 1824, [Constable] wrote to Fisher: ‘The Frenchman who was after my large picture of [the] Hay Cart, last year, is here about it again – he would I believe have both that and the Bridge if he could have them both at his own price. He has made me offers, for that one or both. I showed him your letter and told him of my promise to you. His object is to make a show of them in Paris, perhaps to my advantage – for a prophet is not known in his own country. Let me hear shortly from you, that I may be at liberty or not to talk to him about this picture…He most desires that as it has already a great reputation at Paris, and might more fully answer his speculation. He assures me that it will become the property of the French nation - & will be in the Louvre the ensuing exhibition, which happens once in two years [the Paris Salon]’.”
John Constable, John Constable’s Correspondence, R.B. Beckett, ed. Suffolk, UK: Suffolk Records Society, 1966, vol. 4, pp. 178-9.