John Constable by Daniel Gardner, 1796
|Died||31 March 1837 60) (aged|
Charlotte Street, London, England
|Known for||Landscape painting|
|Dedham Vale (1802);|
The Hay Wain (1821)
John Constable, RA ( /
Suffolk is an East Anglian county of historic origin in England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east. The county town is Ipswich; other important towns include Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket and Felixstowe, one of the largest container ports in Europe.
Dedham Vale is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Essex-Suffolk border in east England. It comprises the area around the River Stour between Manningtree and Smallbridge Farm, 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Bures, including the village of Dedham in Essex.
Constable's most famous paintings include Wivenhoe Park of 1816, Dedham Vale of 1802 and The Hay Wain of 1821.Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, he was never financially successful. He became a member of the establishment after he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52. His work was embraced in France, where he sold more than in his native England and inspired the Barbizon school.
Wivenhoe Park is a painting of an English landscape park, the estate of the Rebow family, by the English Romantic painter, John Constable (1776–1837).
The Hay Wain – originally titled Landscape: Noon – is a painting by John Constable, finished in 1821, which depicts a rural scene on the River Stour between the English counties of Suffolk and Essex. It hangs in the National Gallery in London and is regarded as "Constable's most famous image" and one of the greatest and most popular English paintings.
The Barbizon school of painters were part of an art movement towards Realism in art, which arose in the context of the dominant Romantic Movement of the time. The Barbizon school was active roughly from 1830 through 1870. It takes its name from the village of Barbizon, France, near the Forest of Fontainebleau, where many of the artists gathered. Some of the most prominent features of this school are its tonal qualities, color, loose brushwork, and softness of form.
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John Constable was born in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, to Golding and Ann (Watts) Constable. His father was a wealthy corn merchant, owner of Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and, later, Dedham Mill in Essex. Golding Constable owned a small ship, The Telegraph, which he moored at Mistley on the Stour estuary, and used to transport corn to London. He was a cousin of the London tea merchant, Abram Newman. Although Constable was his parents' second son, his older brother was intellectually disabled and John was expected to succeed his father in the business. After a brief period at a boarding school in Lavenham, he was enrolled in a day school in Dedham. Constable worked in the corn business after leaving school, but his younger brother Abram eventually took over the running of the mills.
East Bergholt is a village in the Babergh District of Suffolk, England, just north of the Essex border.
The River Stour is a river in East Anglia, England. It is 47 miles (76 km) long and forms most of the county boundary between Suffolk to the north, and Essex to the south. It rises in eastern Cambridgeshire, passes to the east of Haverhill, through Cavendish, Bures, Sudbury, Nayland, Stratford St Mary, Dedham and flows through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It becomes tidal just before Manningtree in Essex and joins the North Sea at Harwich.
Flatford Mill is a Grade I listed watermill on the River Stour at Flatford in East Bergholt, Suffolk, England. According to the date-stone the mill was built in 1733, but some of the structure may be earlier. Attached to the mill is a 17th-century miller's cottage which is also Grade I listed. The property is in Dedham Vale, a typically English rural landscape.
In his youth, Constable embarked on amateur sketching trips in the surrounding Suffolk and Essex countryside, which was to become the subject of a large proportion of his art. These scenes, in his own words, "made me a painter, and I am grateful"; "the sound of water escaping from mill dams etc., willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork, I love such things."He was introduced to George Beaumont, a collector, who showed him his prized Hagar and the Angel by Claude Lorrain, which inspired Constable. Later, while visiting relatives in Middlesex, he was introduced to the professional artist John Thomas Smith, who advised him on painting but also urged him to remain in his father's business rather than take up art professionally.
A sketch is a rapidly executed freehand drawing that is not usually intended as a finished work. A sketch may serve a number of purposes: it might record something that the artist sees, it might record or develop an idea for later use or it might be used as a quick way of graphically demonstrating an image, idea or principle.
Sir George Howland Beaumont, 7th Baronet was a British art patron and amateur painter. He played a crucial part in the creation of London's National Gallery by making the first bequest of paintings to that institution.
Claude Lorrain was a French painter, draughtsman and etcher of the Baroque era. He spent most of his life in Italy, and is one of the earliest important artists, apart from his contemporaries in Dutch Golden Age painting, to concentrate on landscape painting. His landscapes are usually turned into the more prestigious genre of history paintings by the addition of a few small figures, typically representing a scene from the Bible or classical mythology.
In 1799, Constable persuaded his father to let him pursue a career in art, and Golding granted him a small allowance. Entering the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer, he attended life classes and anatomical dissections, and studied and copied old masters. Among works that particularly inspired him during this period were paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Lorrain, Peter Paul Rubens, Annibale Carracci and Jacob van Ruisdael. He also read widely among poetry and sermons, and later proved a notably articulate artist.
Thomas Gainsborough FRSA was an English portrait and landscape painter, draughtsman, and printmaker. Along with his bitter rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, he is considered one of the most important British portrait artists of the second half of the 18th century. He painted quickly, and the works of his maturity are characterised by a light palette and easy strokes. Despite being a prolific portrait painter, Gainsborough gained greater satisfaction from his landscapes. He is credited as the originator of the 18th-century British landscape school. Gainsborough was a founding member of the Royal Academy.
Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens's highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.
Annibale Carracci was an Italian painter and instructor, active in Bologna and later in Rome. Along with his brothers, Annibale was one of the progenitors, if not founders of a leading strand of the Baroque style, borrowing from styles from both north and south of their native city, and aspiring for a return to classical monumentality, but adding a more vital dynamism. Painters working under Annibale at the gallery of the Palazzo Farnese would be highly influential in Roman painting for decades.
In 1802 he refused the position of drawing master at Great Marlow Military College, a move which Benjamin West (then master of the RA) counselled would mean the end of his career. In that year, Constable wrote a letter to John Dunthorne in which he spelled out his determination to become a professional landscape painter:
Benjamin West was a British North American history painter around and after the time of the American War of Independence and the Seven Years' War. He was the second president of the Royal Academy in London, serving from 1792 to 1805 and 1806 to 1820. He was offered a knighthood by the British Crown, but declined it, believing that he should instead be made a peer. He said that "Art is the representation of human beauty, ideally perfect in design, graceful and noble in attitude."
For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand... I have not endeavoured to represent nature with the same elevation of mind with which I set out, but have rather tried to make my performances look like the work of other men...There is room enough for a natural painter. The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth.
His early style has many qualities associated with his mature work, including a freshness of light, colour and touch, and reveals the compositional influence of the old masters he had studied, notably of Claude Lorrain.Constable's usual subjects, scenes of ordinary daily life, were unfashionable in an age that looked for more romantic visions of wild landscapes and ruins. He made occasional trips further afield.
By 1803, he was exhibiting paintings at the Royal Academy. In April he spent almost a month aboard the East Indiaman Coutts as it visited south-east ports while sailing from London to Deal before leaving for China.
In 1806 Constable undertook a two-month tour of the Lake District.He told his friend and biographer, Charles Leslie, that the solitude of the mountains oppressed his spirits, and Leslie wrote:
His nature was peculiarly social and could not feel satisfied with scenery, however grand in itself, that did not abound in human associations. He required villages, churches, farmhouses and cottages.
To make ends meet, Constable took up portraiture, which he found dull, though he executed many fine portraits. He also painted occasional religious pictures but, according to John Walker, "Constable's incapacity as a religious painter cannot be overstated."
Constable adopted a routine of spending winter in London and painting at East Bergholt in summer. In 1811 he first visited John Fisher and his family in Salisbury, a city whose cathedral and surrounding landscape were to inspire some of his greatest paintings.
From 1809, his childhood friendship with Maria Elizabeth Bicknell developed into a deep, mutual love. Their marriage in 1816 when Constable was 40 was opposed by Maria's grandfather, Dr Rhudde, rector of East Bergholt. He considered the Constables his social inferiors and threatened Maria with disinheritance. Maria's father, Charles Bicknell, solicitor to King George IV and the Admiralty,was reluctant to see Maria throw away her inheritance. Maria pointed out to John that a penniless marriage would detract from any chances he had of making a career in painting. Golding and Ann Constable, while approving the match, held out no prospect of supporting the marriage until Constable was financially secure. After they died in quick succession, Constable inherited a fifth share in the family business.
John and Maria's marriage in October 1816 at St Martin-in-the-Fields (with Fisher officiating) was followed by time at Fisher's vicarage and a honeymoon tour of the south coast. The sea at Weymouth and Brighton stimulated Constable to develop new techniques of brilliant colour and vivacious brushwork. At the same time, a greater emotional range began to be expressed in his art.
Although he had scraped an income from painting, it was not until 1819 that Constable sold his first important canvas, The White Horse, which led to a series of "six footers", as he called his large-scale paintings. That year he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. In 1821 he showed The Hay Wain (a view from Flatford Mill) at the Academy's exhibition. Théodore Géricault saw it on a visit to London and praised Constable in Paris, where a dealer, John Arrowsmith, bought four paintings, including The Hay Wain. It was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1824, winning a gold medal.
Of Constable's colour, Delacroix wrote in his journal: "What he says here about the green of his meadows can be applied to every tone".Delacroix repainted the background of his 1824 Massacre de Scio after seeing the Constables at Arrowsmith's Gallery, which he said had done him a great deal of good.
In his lifetime, Constable sold only 20 paintings in England, but in France he sold more than 20 in just a few years. Despite this, he refused all invitations to travel internationally to promote his work, writing to Francis Darby: "I would rather be a poor man [in England] than a rich man abroad."In 1825, perhaps due partly to the worry of his wife's ill-health, the uncongeniality of living in Brighton ("Piccadilly by the Seaside" ), and the pressure of numerous outstanding commissions, he quarrelled with Arrowsmith and lost his French outlet.
After the birth of their seventh child in January 1828, Maria fell ill and died of tuberculosis on 23 November at the age of 41. Intensely saddened, Constable wrote to his brother Golding, "hourly do I feel the loss of my departed Angel—God only knows how my children will be brought up...the face of the World is totally changed to me".
Thereafter, he dressed in black and was, according to Leslie, "a prey to melancholy and anxious thoughts". He cared for his seven children alone for the rest of his life. The children were John Charles, Maria Louisa, Charles Golding, Isobel, Emma, Alfred, and Lionel. Only Charles Golding Constable produced offspring, a son.
Shortly before Maria died, her father had also died, leaving her £20,000. Constable speculated disastrously with the money, paying for the engraving of several mezzotints of some of his landscapes in preparation for a publication. He was hesitant and indecisive, nearly fell out with his engraver, and when the folios were published, could not interest enough subscribers. Constable collaborated closely with the talented mezzotinter David Lucas on 40 prints after his landscapes, one of which went through 13 proof stages, corrected by Constable in pencil and paint. Constable said, "Lucas showed me to the public without my faults", but the venture was not a financial success.
He was elected to the Royal Academy in February 1829, at the age of 52. In 1831 he was appointed Visitor at the Royal Academy, where he seems to have been popular with the students.
He began to deliver public lectures on the history of landscape painting, which were attended by distinguished audiences. In a series of lectures at the Royal Institution, Constable proposed a three-fold thesis: firstly, landscape painting is scientific as well as poetic; secondly, the imagination cannot alone produce art to bear comparison with reality; and thirdly, no great painter was ever self-taught.
He also spoke against the new Gothic Revival movement, which he considered mere "imitation".
In 1835, his last lecture to students of the Royal Academy, in which he praised Raphael and called the Academy the "cradle of British art", was "cheered most heartily".He died on the night of 31 March 1837, apparently from heart failure, and was buried with Maria in the graveyard of St John-at-Hampstead Church in Hampstead in London. (His children John Charles Constable and Charles Golding Constable are also buried in this family tomb.)
Bridge Cottage is a National Trust property, open to the public. Nearby Flatford Mill and Willy Lott's Cottage (the house visible in The Hay Wain ) are used by the Field Studies Council for courses. The largest collection of original Constable paintings outside London is on display at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. Somerville College, Oxford is in possession of a portrait by Constable.
Constable quietly rebelled against the artistic culture that taught artists to use their imagination to compose their pictures rather than nature itself. He told Leslie, "When I sit down to make a sketch from nature, the first thing I try to do is to forget that I have ever seen a picture".
Although Constable produced paintings throughout his life for the "finished" picture market of patrons and R.A. exhibitions, constant refreshment in the form of on-the-spot studies was essential to his working method. He was never satisfied with following a formula. "The world is wide", he wrote, "no two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of all the world; and the genuine productions of art, like those of nature, are all distinct from each other."
Constable painted many full-scale preliminary sketches of his landscapes to test the composition in advance of finished pictures. These large sketches, with their free and vigorous brushwork, were revolutionary at the time, and they continue to interest artists, scholars and the general public. The oil sketches of The Leaping Horse and The Hay Wain, for example, convey a vigour and expressiveness missing from Constable's finished paintings of the same subjects. Possibly more than any other aspect of Constable's work, the oil sketches reveal him in retrospect to have been an avant-garde painter, one who demonstrated that landscape painting could be taken in a totally new direction.
Constable's watercolours were also remarkably free for their time: the almost mystical Stonehenge, 1835, with its double rainbow, is often considered to be one of the greatest watercolours ever painted.When he exhibited it in 1836, Constable appended a text to the title: "The mysterious monument of Stonehenge, standing remote on a bare and boundless heath, as much unconnected with the events of past ages as it is with the uses of the present, carries you back beyond all historical records into the obscurity of a totally unknown period."
In addition to the full-scale oil sketches, Constable completed numerous observational studies of landscapes and clouds, determined to become more scientific in his recording of atmospheric conditions. The power of his physical effects was sometimes apparent even in the full-scale paintings which he exhibited in London; The Chain Pier, 1827, for example, prompted a critic to write: "the atmosphere possesses a characteristic humidity about it, that almost imparts the wish for an umbrella".
The sketches themselves were the first ever done in oils directly from the subject in the open air. To convey the effects of light and movement, Constable used broken brushstrokes, often in small touches, which he scumbled over lighter passages, creating an impression of sparkling light enveloping the entire landscape. One of the most expressionistic and powerful of all his studies is Seascape Study with Rain Cloud, painted about 1824 at Brighton, which captures with slashing dark brushstrokes the immediacy of an exploding cumulus shower at sea.Constable also became interested in painting rainbow effects, for example in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows , 1831, and in Cottage at East Bergholt , 1833.
To the sky studies he added notes, often on the back of the sketches, of the prevailing weather conditions, direction of light, and time of day, believing that the sky was "the key note, the standard of scale, and the chief organ of sentiment" in a landscape painting.In this habit he is known to have been influenced by the pioneering work of the meteorologist Luke Howard on the classification of clouds; Constable's annotations of his own copy of Researches About Atmospheric Phaenomena by Thomas Forster show him to have been fully abreast of meteorological terminology. "I have done a good deal of skying", Constable wrote to Fisher on 23 October 1821; "I am determined to conquer all difficulties, and that most arduous one among the rest".
Constable once wrote in a letter to Leslie, "My limited and abstracted art is to be found under every hedge, and in every lane, and therefore nobody thinks it worth picking up".He could never have imagined how influential his honest techniques would turn out to be. Constable's art inspired not only contemporaries like Géricault and Delacroix, but the Barbizon School, and the French impressionists of the late nineteenth century.
In 2019 two drawings by Constable were unearthed in a dusty cardboard-box filled with drawings; the drawings sold for £60,000 and £32,000 at auction.
See also Category:Paintings by John Constable for those with their own articles.
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