Thursday, September 3, 2009
John Constable. 1776-1837. He is perhaps the greatest and most original of all British landscape artists. He is renowned especially for his views of the Stour Valley in Suffolk, Salisbury Cathedral, Hampstead Heath and the Stonehenge. He was brought up in the country. Today, his genius is acknowledged throughout the world but during his own lifetime, landscape painting was unfashionable and he was forced to struggle for recognition.
When he chose art as a profession, he left his Suffolk home to live permanently in London. He was born in East Bergholt in Suffolk on 11th June 1776. Most of his boyhood was spent around the Stour valley. His father, Golding Constable, was a wealthy corn merchant with two water mills and some ninety acres of farmland.
England's two greatest artists, Constable and Turner were students together as well as rivals at the Royal Academy.
One of the most important decisions an artist makes is where to stand when painting or sketching. The choice of viewpoint has a profound effect on the impact of the finished painting. Constable often stood high above the scenes he painted. The effect of the high position was to give an overview in which distant objects were clearly seen. When he adopted a lower viewpoint as with his 'Hay Wain',the distant objects were no longer clear but merged into the background. The effect is to involve us with the foreground scene and focus our attention on the main subject. A long viewpoint, like the 'Salisbury Cathedral' can also highlight the drama of the subject. It allows the soaring spire of the cathedral to be framed within an archway formed by the trees. In 'Stonehenge', the low viewpoint combined with a bare horizon means that much of the painting is taken up with the dark blue sky that is a background of mystery for the ancient stones.
His masterpiece is the 'Hay Wain'. He painted this in his London Studio during the winter of 1821 using his diary sketches and oil studies as reference material. He chose a landscape he knew well.He was anxious that the details should be accurate. His true subject is the day itself as he carefully studies the shifting summer clouds and the play of sunlight on the trees and meadows. Constable observed the sky with unusual care and made detailed oil studies often noting the exact time of day and the wind speed and direction.
One critic at the Paris Salon in 1824, on seeing his work, 'The Haymakers', remarked, "Look at these English pictures - the very dew is on the ground".
'Boatbuilding' done in 1815 is in Victoria and Albert Museum. The 'Hay Wain' is in the National Gallery."Salisbury Cathedral' in 1823, was commissioned by the Bishop of Salisbury himself.
While Constable was sketching in the depths of Suffolk, dramatic news was breaking in the outside world. The King of England had gone mad and power went to his fashionable son, the Prince Regent, Prince George. The Prime Minister, John Bellingham, was shot in parliament. The long war against Napoleon continued with disastrous consequences for the British economy. 1812 was a year of three-day weeks, riots and depression. Also, in this year, Edward Jenner pioneered the vaccination against small pox. This year was also the beginning of the end for Napoleon. General Kutuzov troubled him in Moscow and the severe winter blitz destroyed almost ninety percent of his army. A sequence of victories against the French armies in Spain brought Wellington to Madrid in the summer of 1812. Within another year, he would enter France itself and be the nemesis for Napoleon at Waterloo. Then in this year, there was war between Britain and the United States that was provoked by the British naval blockade of French ports. All these events did affect John Constable but he sought refuge in his art while the world he had once loved was literally going up in flames.He died at age 61 suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis.