Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Constable, John

A Cottage in a Cornfield
oil on canvas
32 x 26 cm
National Museum Wales, Cardiff, UK

Constable made two versions of this subject, the first painted largely outdoors in the vicinity of East Bergholtduring the summer of 1815 and completed in 1833 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London),  and this second version painted in his studio in London towards the beginning of 1817. He made a number of changes to the image, showing the scene at high summer with the field full of ripe corn, changing the quality of the light, adding the figure beside the cottage on the left, and the donkey and foal standing to the right of the gate.

As a boy Constable often passed by this cottage, at the end of Fen Lane, when he walked down the lane on his way to school at Dedham. It was ‘a picture compact with the true sentiment of observation, playing the contrast of the remoteness of human habitation against the thick, ripening, jungle life of the corn surging up to the walls of the cottage’. (Andrew Shirley in his biography of Constable)  

"I should paint my own places best", Constable wrote, "painting is but another word for feeling".
Constable's range and aspirations were less extensive than those of his contemporary J. M. W. Turner, but these two artists have traditionally been linked as the giants of early 19th-century British landscape painting and isolated from the many other artists practising landscape at a time when it was unprecedentedly popular.

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.