John Constable:
Stour Valley and Dedham Church


Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

    • Oil on canvas, 21 7/8 x 30 5/8 inches
    • 1814
    • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In this third painter of the same scene -- the Stour valley with Dedham Church, we can see Constable's goal. He wanted to catch the ever changing lights and colors. He wrote thought 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." He wanted to catch this never-static world and he developed new techniques to represent in paint the atmospheric effects of changing light in the open air, the movement of clouds across the sky, the interplay of open air and trees. There can be no doubt that his excited delight at these phenomena, stemmed from a profound love of the countryside of his boyhood. But there is more here than just nostalgia. To render the shifting flicker of light and weather, Constable abandoned fine traditional finish, catching instead the sunlight in blobs of pure white or yellow, and the drama of storms with a rapid brush stroke.

But this painting also has another element, which will become almost his trademark. At the bottom right, Constable has included a group of workers. Henceforth, his paintings will always have men and women, working in harmony with the landscape, taming it, as it were,

for human occupation. And with his artist's eye, he calls our attention to this group by making one of the workers (or a horse, or a cart, or even a dog) wear a touch of bright red. This simple device draws our eye to what we might otherwise overlook.

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