Monday, August 12, 2013

Constable, John

Wivenhoe Park, Essex
oil on canvas
56.1 × 101.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, London, UK

"I should paint my own places best", Constable wrote, "painting is but another word for feeling".

John Constable John Constable (1776 - 1837) was an English Romantic painter. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home - now known as "Constable Country"- which he invested with an intensity of affection.

The son of a landowning farmer, miller, and corn merchant, Constable grew up along the Stour River in East Bergholt, Suffolk. Although his family hoped that he would join his father's business, they permitted him to enter the Royal Academy Schools at the age of twenty-two. Rejecting the accepted hierarchy of genres, which ranked idealized landscapes that told historical or mythological tales above views observed in nature, Constable sought recognition for humbler scenes of cultivated land and agricultural labor.

Beginning with the 1819 Academy exhibition, Constable demonstrated his aspirations more boldly by exhibiting large-scale scenes of working farms and waterways painted in his studio, using increasingly broad brushstrokes and thickly applied highlights. His strikingly fresh, apparently spontaneous transcription of the landscape, described by a writer as "the mirror of nature," caused a sensation among French painters. Intensive studies of clouds and skies enabled Constable to achieve these unique atmospheric effects. In 1821 and 1822, during his intense "skying" period, he produced dozens of watercolor, crayon, and oil studies of the clouds. His cloud studies - celebrated today - were not exhibited in his lifetime. He labeled almost all of these images with scientific precision, indicating the date, time, wind, and weather conditions under which they were painted. Yet his ultimate goal was to paint the sky - which he deemed landscape's "chief organ of sentiment" - more expressively.

In the later part of his career, Constable made fewer open-air oil sketches. Instead, he increasingly prepared studio sketches inspired by his earlier outdoor drawings. He undertook one major project in his final years - a series of twenty mezzotints after his paintings to be engraved by a little-known printmaker under his supervision. The series, known as English Landscape and published from 1830 to 1833, became a manifesto of his views on landscape painting and a summary of his career.

He was never financially successful and did not become a member of the establishment until he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52. He sold more paintings in France than in his native England. Today he is often considered, along with J. M. W. Turner, one of England's greatest landscape painters.