English artist; one of the greatest landscape painters of the 19th century. He painted scenes of his native Suffolk, including The Haywain (1821; National Gallery, London), as well as castles, cathedrals, landscapes, and coastal scenes in other parts of Britain. Constable inherited the Dutch tradition of sombre realism, in particular the style of Jacob Ruisdael. He aimed to capture the momentary changes of the weather as well as to create monumental images of British scenery, as in The White Horse (1819; Frick Collection, New York) and Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds (1827; Victoria and Albert Museum, London).
Constable's paintings are remarkable for their atmospheric effects and were admired by many French painters, including Eugène Delacroix. Notable are The Leaping Horse (1825; Royal Academy, London); The Cornfield (1826; National Gallery, London); and Dedham Vale (1828; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh). His many oil sketches are often considered among his best work.
Early work Employed as a youth in the family mill, he developed slowly as an artist. He was 23 when he began to study at the Royal Academy Schools, and 35 when he painted Dedham Vale (1811). In this long formative period, two main factors can be found. Firstly, he studied and assimilated what had been achieved in landscape painting by Claude Lorraine, Jacob Ruisdael, Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Gainsborough and Thomas Girtin. He was able to see their work in the collection of George Beaumont, who encouraged him. Secondly, he loved nature – the unobstructed cloud panorama, the flat lands, streams, water meadows and cornfields of his native East Anglia, and especially the part of the Stour valley near his home now known as the ‘Constable country’.
Subjects His subjects were not confined to Suffolk, though when settled in London he went there nearly every year. He painted memorable works in Salisbury, Hampstead, and Brighton also, but was essentially an artist of the lowlands and scenes of a modestly rural kind, and a visit to the Lake District in 1806 did not incline him to the mountain scenery delightful to the Romantic mind. The self-imposed limitation distinguishes him from his contemporary (of nearly the same age) Joseph Turner; Constable is typical of the Romantic period, in which he lived only in the Wordsworthian return to nature and the study of natural phenomena after the stresses of revolution and war.
Mature work He was made an associate of the Royal Academy in 1819. In that year he was relieved of money anxieties by a timely legacy, and now devoted all his powers to a succession of great works, among which may be cited the Haywain (originally Landscape, Noon), exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1824, where it made a deep impression; the Leaping Horse (1825: Royal Academy), perhaps his masterpiece, The Cornfield (1826; National Gallery); Hadleigh Castle (1829; National Gallery); Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1831); and The Valley Farm (1835; Tate Gallery).
Method of working His finished works were preceded by large preparatory paintings in which his freshness of handling, technical freedom, and audacity in the use of broken colour are more apparent. These again are to be distinguished from the small sketches made from nature, which give incomparably the vividness of direct impression. His watercolours are subsidiary, mainly preparatory studies for oils, though including so dramatic an example as the Stonehenge in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Influence on others In England his immediate influence was practically nil; in France, on the other hand, his influence was felt by the Barbizon School, and later by the Impressionists.
Constable, John Boat Building by Flatford Mill
Constable, John Dedham Lock and Mill
Constable, John, landscape
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