john constable


  • [26] The ‘Six-Footers’ Although he managed to scrape an income from painting, it was not until 1819 that Constable sold his first important canvas, The White Horse, described
    by Charles Robert Leslie as ‘on many accounts the most important picture Constable ever painted’.

  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London 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.

  • National Gallery of Art, Washington To make ends meet, Constable took up portraiture, which he found dull, though he executed many fine portraits.

  • [24] Three weeks before their marriage, Constable revealed that he had started work on his most ambitious project to date[25] In a letter to Maria Bicknell from East Bergholt,
    he wrote: ’I am now in the midst of a large picture here which I had contemplated for the next exhibition[25] The picture was Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River).

  • Private collection A number of distractions meant that The Lock wasn’t finished in time for the 1823 exhibition, leaving the much smaller Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s
    Grounds as the artist’s main entry.

  • [27] Although Flatford Mill failed to find a buyer when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817,[25] its fine and intricate execution drew much praise, encouraging Constable
    to move on to the even larger canvases that were to follow.

  • In that year, Constable wrote a letter to John Dunthorne in which he spelled out his determination to become a professional landscape painter: For the last two years I have
    been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand…

  • [29] The White Horse marked an important turning point in Constable’s career; its success saw him elected an associate of the Royal Academy[30] and it led to a series of six
    monumental landscapes depicting narratives on the River Stour known as the ‘six-footers’ (named for their scale).

  • [13] 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.

  • [28] The painting (without the frame) sold for the substantial price of 100 guineas to his friend John Fisher, finally providing Constable with a level of financial freedom
    he had never before known.

  • 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.

  • Royal Academy of Arts, London The sketches themselves were the first ever done in oils directly from the subject in the open air, with the notable exception of the oil sketches
    Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes made in Rome around 1780.

  • [35] According to the painter Eugène Delacroix, Géricault returned to France ’quite stunned‘ by Constable’s painting,[35] while Nodier suggested French artists should also
    look to nature rather than relying on trips to Rome for inspiration.

  • 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.

  • [54] 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.

  • 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

  • “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.

  • [39] A third, landscape version, known as ‘A Boat Passing a Lock’ (1826) is now in the collection of the Royal Academy of Arts.

  • “I should paint my own places best”, he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “painting is but another word for feeling”.

  • [48] The turmoil and distress of his mind is clearly seen in his later six-foot masterpieces Hadleigh Castle (1829)[48] and Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1831), which
    are amongst his most expressive pieces.

  • [53] Constable attributed his gift ‘to all that lay on the Stour river’, however, biographer Anthony Bailey attributed his artistic development to the influence of his well
    to do relative, Thomas Allen and the London contacts he introduced Constable to.

  • [46] Constable also became interested in painting rainbow effects, for example in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1831, and in Cottage at East Bergholt, 1833.

  • Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh In 1799, Constable persuaded his father to let him pursue a career in art, and Golding granted him a small allowance.

  • 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.

  • National Gallery, London 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.

  • [44] He continued painting six-foot canvases, although he was initially unsure of the suitability of Brighton as a subject for painting.

  • It was the largest canvas of a working scene on the River Stour that he had worked on to date and the largest he would ever complete largely outdoors.

  • Although it failed to find a buyer, It was viewed by some important people of the time, including two Frenchmen, the artist Théodore Géricault and writer Charles Nodier.

  • “[20] In 1825, perhaps due partly to the worry of his wife’s ill-health, the uncongeniality of living in Brighton (“Piccadilly by the seaside”[46]), and the pressure of numerous
    outstanding commissions, he quarreled with Arrowsmith and lost his French outlet.

  • [4] Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, he was never financially successful.

  • [36] 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.

  • [32] The Lock was therefore exhibited the following year to more fanfare and sold for 150 guineas[38] on the first day of the exhibition, the only Constable ever to do so.

  • 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.

  • [59] 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

  • Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for revolutionising the genre of landscape painting[2] with his pictures of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home – now known
    as “Constable Country” – which he invested with an intensity of affection.

  • “[20] Another source of income was country house painting.

  • [32] Tinney loved the painting so much, he offered Constable another 100 guineas to paint a companion picture, an offer the artist didn’t take up.

  • Yale Center for British Art Chain Pier, Brighton was his only ambitious six-foot painting of a Brighton subject, it was exhibited in 1827.

  • [42] Her growing illness meant that Constable took lodgings for his family in Brighton from 1824 until 1828,[2] in the hope the sea air could restore her health.

  • [21] The Major-General also commissioned a smaller painting of the fishing lodge in the grounds of Alresford Hall,[21] which is now in the National Gallery of Victoria.

  • Born: 11 June 1776, East Bergholt, Suffolk, England; Died: 31 March 1837 (aged 60), London, England; Resting place: St John-at-Hampstead, London; Nationality: British; Known
    for: Landscape painting; Notable work: The Hay Wain, Dedham Vale; Movement: Romanticism Early career John Constable was born in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, to Golding and Ann (Watts) Constable.

  • [55] 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.

  • A second version now known as the ‘Foster version’ was painted in 1825 and kept by the artist to send to exhibitions.

  • 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.

  • Tate Britain This period saw his art move from the serenity of its earlier phase, to a more broken and accented style.

  • [58] “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”.

  • [10] 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.

  • He also painted occasional religious pictures but, according to John Walker, “Constable’s incapacity as a religious painter cannot be overstated.

  • [9] Constable worked in the corn business after leaving school, but his younger brother Abram eventually took over the running of the mills.

  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London • Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River), c. 1816, oil on canvas, Tate Britain, London • Stratford Mill, 1820, oil on canvas, National
    Gallery, London • View on the Stour near Dedham, 1822, oil on canvas, Huntington Library, Los Angeles County • The Leaping Horse, 1825, oil on canvas, Royal Academy of Arts, London • Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds c. 1825.

  • The series also includes Stratford Mill, 1820 (National Gallery, London); The Hay Wain, 1821 (National Gallery, London); View on the Stour near Dedham, 1822 (Huntington Library
    and Art Gallery, Los Angeles County); The Lock, 1824 (Private Collection); and The Leaping Horse, 1825 (Royal Academy of Arts, London).

  • His work was embraced in France, where he sold more than in his native England and inspired the Barbizon school.

  • In 1802 he refused the position of drawing master at Great Marlow Military College (now Sandhurst), a move which Benjamin West (then master of the RA) counselled would mean
    the end of his career.

  • [45] In a letter to Fisher in 1824 he wrote The magnificence of the sea, and its (to use your own beautiful expression) everlasting voice, is drowned in the din & lost in
    the tumult of stage coaches – gigs – “flys” &c. -and the beach is only Piccadilly (that part of it where we dined) by the sea-side.

  • [15] 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.

  • As a gesture of appreciation for John Fisher, the Bishop of Salisbury, who commissioned this painting, Constable included the Bishop and his wife in the bottom left corner.

  • [26] Constable was determined to paint on a larger scale, his objective not only to attract more attention at the Royal Academy exhibitions but also, it seems, to project
    his ideas about landscape on a scale more in keeping with the achievements of the classical landscape painters he so admired.

  • Maria pointed out to John that a penniless marriage would detract from any chances he had of making a career in painting.

  • A few gallery items found here.


Works Cited

[‘”Constable, John,” Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary
• ^ Jump up to:a b V&A: John Constable – an introduction
• ^ Jump up to:a b Parkinson 1998, p. 9
• ^ Constable’s Wivenhoe Park is widely recognized as an important work in the artist’s
career. Archived 29 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
• ^ Parris, Fleming-Williams & Shields 1976, pp. 59–60
• ^ John Constable was born in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, to Golding Constable, a wealthy corn merchant
and Ann (Watts) Constable. Delphi Collected Work of John Constable, 2015, page 14.
• ^ Constable’s father — Golding Constable was a wealthy corn merchant, owner of Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and, later, Dedham Mill in Essex. He owned a small
ship, The Telegraph, which he moored at Mistley on the Stour estuary, which he used to transport corn to London. Delphi Collected Works of John Constable, 2015, page 14
• ^ [he] was transferred later to an establishment in the pretty, little town
of Lavenham, where he suffered much at the hands of a flogging usher. Holmes, Charles John (1901), Constable, The Sign of the Unicorn, VII Cecil Court, St.Martin’s Lane, London
• ^ After a brief period at a boarding school in Lavenham, he was enrolled
in a day school in Dedham. Constable, John. Delphi Collected Works of John Constable (Illustrated) (Masters of Art Book 17) (p. 15). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.
• ^ Constable worked in the corn business after leaving school, but his younger
brother Abram eventually took over the running of the mills. Constable, John. Delphi Collected Works of John Constable (Illustrated) (Masters of Art Book 17) (p. 15). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.
• ^ In his youth, Constable embarked on amateur
sketching trips in the surrounding Suffolk and Essex countryside, which in later years would inspire the majority of the subject matter of his canvases. Constable, John. Delphi Collected Works of John Constable (Illustrated) (Masters of Art Book 17)
(p. 15). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 15
• ^ At this time, he was introduced to George Beaumont, an art collector that showed the aspiring artist, amongst his many other treasures, his prized painting Hagar and the Angel
by Claude Lorrain, which would have a profound influence on Constable. Delphi Collected Works of John Constable, p.15
• ^ 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, as well as studying and copying old masters. Among works that particularly inspired him during this period were the landscapes of Thomas Gainsborough,
Claude Lorrain, Peter Paul Rubens, Annibale Carracci and Jacob van Ruisdael. Constable, John. Delphi Collected Works of John Constable (Illustrated) (Masters of Art Book 17) (p. 15). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.
• ^ Thornes 1999, p. 96
• ^
Parkinson 1998, p. 17
• ^ In 1803, Constable exhibited at the Academy two “Landscapes” and two “Studies from Nature”; and in April he made a trip from London to Deal, in the Coutts, East Indiaman, with Captain Torin, a friend of his father. Constable,
John. Delphi Collected Works of John Constable (Illustrated) (Masters of Art Book 17) (p. 429). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 18
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 22
• ^ Jump up to:a b Walker 1979
• ^ Jump up to:a b c Reynolds
1983, p. 86
• ^ NGV
• ^ Information from Constable’s gravestone
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 24
• ^ Jump up to:a b c Tate: Flatford Mill
• ^ Jump up to:a b National Gallery of Art: Constable’s Great Landscapes
• ^ Tate: Constable: The Great
• ^ Jump up to:a b Sotheby’s: The White Horse
• ^ Sotheby’s: Landscapes of Constable Country
• ^ Tate: Constable’s ‘Six-Footers’
• ^ New York Times: Constable’s Great Landscapes
• ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g Bailey 2007, p. 116
• ^
Jump up to:a b c Johnson 1991, p. 614
• ^ National Gallery: Stratford Mill
• ^ Jump up to:a b c d National Gallery: The Hay Wain – Description
• ^ Kelder 1980, p. 27
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 132
• ^ Charles 2015, p. 162
• ^ Jump up to:a
b ssSotheby’s: The Lock
• ^ R.A.: A Boat passing a Lock
• ^ Bailey 2007, p. 164
• ^ Charles 2015, p. 128
• ^ Reynolds 1983, p. 18
• ^ Thornes 1999, p. 128
• ^ Jump up to:a b Tate: Chain Pier, Brighton
• ^ Jump up to:a b Thornes 1999,
p. 128
• ^ Jump up to:a b Reynolds 1983, p. 20
• ^ Jump up to:a b c Reynolds 1983, p. 21
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 33
• ^ “Chapter 33”. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
• ^ Mayor 1980, nos 455–460
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 50
• ^ Thornes
1999, p. 51
• ^ Bailey, Anthony (2008), John Constable : a kingdom of his own, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, OCLC 218805873, retrieved 2 October 2022
• ^ Jump up to:a b Parkinson 1998, p. 64
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 89
• ^ Parkinson 1998,
p. 110
• ^ Thornes 1999, p. 68
• ^ Thornes 1999, p. 56
• ^ Parkinson 1998, p. 129
• ^ “Unearthed John Constable drawings sell for £92k – Addison Gazette”. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
• ^ Alberge, Dalya (3 February 2019). “John Constable sketches
found among box of dusty drawings by son of playwright during clearout”. The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 25 May 2019 – via
• ^ Thompson, Jennifer A. “The Stour by John Constable (cat.
857)”. The John G. Johnson Collection: A History and Selected Works. A Philadelphia Museum of Art free digital publication.
• ^ “John Constable’s Stour Valley location mystery solved”. BBC News. 26 January 2010. Retrieved 26 January 2010.
• ^
Thompson, Jennifer A. “Two Donkeys by John Constable (inv. 155)”. The John G. Johnson Collection: A History and Selected Works. A Philadelphia Museum of Art free digital publication.
• Bailey, Anthony (2007), John Constable: A Kingdom of His Own,
London: Vintage, ISBN 978-1-84413-833-3
• Beckett, Ronald B. (1962), John Constable’s Correspondence VI: The Fishers, Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, ISBN 978-0-90071-609-6
• Charles, Victoria (2015), Constable, New York: Parkstone International,
ISBN 978-1-78042-954-0
• Constable, Freda (1975), John Constable, Lavenham: Terence Dalton, ISBN 0-900963-54-9
• Cormack, Malcolm (1986), Constable, Oxford: Phaidon, ISBN 0-7148-2350-3
• Fleming-Williams, Ian (1976), Constable: Landscape Watercolours
& Drawings, London: Tate, ISBN 0-905005-10-4
• Fleming-Williams, Ian; Parris, Leslie (1984), The Discovery of Constable, London: Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 0-241-11248-6
• Fraser, John Lloyd (1976), John Constable: 1776–1837, Newton Abbot, UK: Readers
Union, ISBN 0-09-125540-6
• Gayford, Martin (2009), Constable in Love: Love, Landscape, Money and the Making of a Great Painter, Fig Tree
• Hamilton, James (2022), Constable: A Portrait, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 978-1474612913
• Holmes, Charles
John (2012), John Constable: Illustrated, The Bookmill, ISBN 978-0-9567303-6-7 Kindle
• Kelder, Diane (1980), The Great Book of French Impressionism, New York: Abbeville Press, ISBN 0-89659-151-4
• Johnson, Paul (1991), The Birth of the Modern:
World Society 1815-1830, University of Michigan: HarperCollins, ISBN 9780060165741
• Leslie, C. R. (1995), Mayne, Jonathan (ed.), Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, London: Phaidon, ISBN 0-7148-3360-6
• Lyles, Anne, ed. (2006), Constable:
The Great Landscapes, London: Tate Publishing, ISBN 1-85437-635-7
• Mayor, A. Hyatt (1980), Prints & People: A Social History of Printed Pictures, Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-00326-2
• Parkinson, Ronald (1998), John
Constable: The Man and His Art, London: V&A, ISBN 1-85177-243-X
• Parris, Leslie; Fleming-Williams, Ian (1991), Constable, London: Tate, ISBN 1-85437-070-7
• Parris, Leslie; Fleming-Williams, Ian (1982), Lionel Constable, London: Tate, ISBN 0-905005-38-4
• Parris,
Leslie; Fleming-Williams, Ian; Shields, Conal (1976), Constable: Paintings, Watercolours & Drawings, London: Tate Gallery, ISBN 0-905005-15-5
• Pool, Phoebe (1964), John Constable, London: Blandford, OCLC 3365016
• Reynolds, Graham (1976), Constable:
The Natural Painter, St Albans, UK: Panther, ISBN 0-586-04401-9
• Reynolds, Graham (1983), Constable’s England, New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, ISBN 9780870993350
• Rhyne, Charles (2006), “The Remarkable Story of the ‘Six-Foot Sketches'”,
Constable: The Great Landscapes, ed. Anne Lyles, London: Tate, ISBN 978-1-85437-635-0
• Rhyne, Charles (1990), John Constable: Toward a Complete Chronology, Portland, Oregon: Author, ISBN 0-9627197-0-6
• Rosenthal, Michael (1987), Constable, London:
Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-20211-7
• Rosenthal, Michael (1983), Constable: The Painter and His Landscape, New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-03014-2
• Smart, Alastair; Brooks, Attfield (1976), Constable and His Country, London:
Elek, ISBN 0-236-40011-8
• Sunderland, John (1986), Constable, London: Phaidon, ISBN 978-0-7148-2754-4
• Thornes, John E. (1999), John Constable’s Skies, Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, ISBN 1-902459-02-4
• Vaughan, William (2002),
John Constable, London: Tate, ISBN 1-85437-434-6
• Walker, John (1979), Constable, London: Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-09133-1
• Wilcox, Timothy (2011), Constable and Salisbury. The soul of landscape, London: Scala, ISBN 978-1-85759-678-6

Photo credit:’]


At work