Monday, December 27, 2010

John Constable 2

Constable manged to earn a living painting portraits but barely scraped by financially. His portraits were priced rather low compared to his contemporaries and having seen a few of them the reason seems clear enough. He was employed sometimes to make copies of other artists portraits by their owners. he did however receive a yearly stipend from the family milling and grain shipping business now run by a brother.

He married his childhood friend Maria Bicknell in 1816, she bore him seven children and died of tuberculosis in
1828. He dressed in black for the rest of his life and raised his seven children alone.

In 1819 Constable painted the "Haywain" the first of a series of what he called his six footers. This painting was seen by Theodore Gericault and he was picked up by a Parisian dealer who sold his paintings there with some success. The Haywain was shown at the salon in Paris and won a gold medal.

In Constables day the fashion was for landscapes like those of Claude Loraine with ruins and picturesque views often of Italy and including romantic figures of Gypsies or mythological figures. His naturalistic paintings were puzzling to the British, although the French had a greater appreciation for them. He was never extremely successful but was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52.

Part of what held Constable back was the hierarchy of painting as established by Joshua Reynolds. Those of you who have been teething on this blog for a while will remember my "translations" of the discourses of Josh Reynolds. Reynolds felt that the highest form of painting was history or allegorical painting, and that the other genres descended below it to landscape painting as the least important. In Constables time that was changing and Gainsborough and Turner eventually became respected for landscape paintings. Still Constables naturalistic paintings of everyday scenes were puzzling to his audience who expected more drama and less "real life".

Constable gave a series of well received lectures for the the Royal Academy on the history of landscape painting. He died in 1837 and was buried next to his wife.Today constable is remembered as England's greatest landscape painter, although some would prefer to place Turner in that spot.


T Arthur Smith said...

Constable painted portraits? What were they all burned? Where are they? said...

I'm a Turner fan myself. But did Reynolds really put landscape below the (gasp,) Stlill LIfe? I thought you couldn't get any lower than that. I'll have to rethink my status now.

Denise Rose said...

I enjoyed reading this. I did my high school term paper many years ago on John Constable so all this brings back "memories." Thanks for sharing!

Deborah Paris said...

In art history, Turner plays the shooting star to what seems at first glance to be a more earthbound Constable. And in fact, Turner did burst on the London art scene, becoming the youngest member ever elected to the Royal Academy at age 24 , while it took Constable over twenty years to achieve that status. During their lives,Turner's influence in England was huge and Constable's negligible. But it was Constable's influence in France that laid the groundwork for the Barbizon School and the Impressionists (and American Tonalism). Turner's emphasis was on the Sublime and his audacious use of color and technique nevertheless were often used in service of history or classical themes which found more favor at the Royal Academy than the pure landscape paintings of Constable.

Constable's art was based upon a deep and abiding affection for the landscape in which he grew up and to which he returned during his entire life as a source of inspiration, saying that for him "painting was but another word for feeling" and that his art "could be found under every hedge and down every lane". Constable's approach to his art, grounded upon plein air work and close observation, combined with painterly technique was in fact, quietly revolutionary.

Lucy said...

Some of Constable's "studies" are as monumental and as interesting as his "finished" paintings. Painted as large as the finished works (often six feet or more) they are startlingly fresh with vigorous brushwork and lots of bare canvas showing through which doesn't come across in the reproductions.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Your wish I my command. Tonight Constable portraits

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think subsequent events have proved Reynolds mistaken in his hierarchy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I prefer Constable to Turner about 57 to 1.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is where I am going with this, I am going to talk at length about the six footers and the sketches for them.

T Arthur Smith said...

thank you!