JOHN CONSTABLE
(1776-1837)

Ranked with Turner as one of the greatest British landscape artists, John Constable showed an early talent for art and began painting his native Suffolk scenery before he left school. He matured slowly as a painter, and committed himself to a career as an artist only in 1799, when he joined the Royal Academy Schools and it was not until 1829 that he was grudgingly made a full Academician, elected by a majority of only one vote. In 1816 he became financially secure on the death of his father and married Maria Bicknell after a seven-year courtship because of strong opposition from her family. During the 1820s he began to win recognition: The Hay Wain (National Gallery, London, 1821) won a gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1824. His wife died in 1828, after only 12 years of marriage, and the remaining years of his life were clouded by despondency.

 

After spending some years working in the picturesque tradition of landscape and the manner of Gainsborough, Constable pioneered a new form of landscape. Just as his contemporary William Wordsworth rejected stuffy academic writing and wrote lyrically about the English lake district, so Constable abandoned the academic landscapists , who, he said, were trapped in a sterile tradition, "seeking the truth at second hand." He wrote that "No two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world," and he set out to represent in paint the atmospheric effects of changing light in the open air, the movement of clouds across the sky, and his excited delight at these phenomena, stemming from a profound love of the country: `The sound of water escaping from mill dams, willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts and brickwork, I love such things. These scenes made me a painter.' Critics have dubbed his accomplishment, "a spot of time," approach.

 

Constable never went abroad, and his finest works are of the places he knew and loved best, particularly Suffolk and Hampstead, where he lived from 1821. To render the shifting flicker of light and weather he abandoned fine traditional finish, catching the sunlight in blobs of pure white or yellow, and the drama of storms with a rapid brush. It always comes as a surprise to learn that these magnificent pictures were produced in his studio, not "on the spot." But Constable worked extensively in the open air, drawing and sketching so that he brought back to the studio a number of ideas. For his most ambitious works--`six-footers' as he called them--he followed the unusual technical procedure of making a full-size oil sketch, and in the 20th century there has been a tendancy to praise these even more highly than the finished works because of their freedom and freshness of brushwork.

 

In England Constable had no real sucessor; in France, however, he was a major influence on Romantics such as Delacroix, and on the painters of the Barbizon School and, ultimately, on the Impressionists.

 For information on individual works, and enlargement of picture, click on thumbnail.

 Dedham Vale
 Dedham from Langham
 Stour Valley and Dedham Church
 Maria Bicknell


 Wivenhoe Park, Essex (detail of left side)
 Wivenhoe Park, Essex (detail of right side)
 Flatford Mill
 The Hay Wainr


 The White Horse
 The White Horse (detail)
 Stratford Mill
 The Cornfield


 Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadow
 The Lock at Dedham
 Boat Building
 The Young Waltonians


 The Leaping Horse
 Brighton Beach
 The Chain Pier at Brighton
 Salisbury Cathedral with Rainbow

Return to Art in European History
 Show Slide Show - Constable