Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Constable 3

images from artrenewal.org.

In his early career Constable made his living as a portrait painter. He was, I think a rather indifferent painter of heads. Because his portraits were very inexpensive he was able to survive only because of the inheritance from his family. An inheritance from his wife's family was quickly lost in a failed business adventure involving reproductions of his paintings that didn't sell very well.That happened much later than this, the portrait era. Someone in the comments asked to see some of the examples, unaware that Constable had painted portraits. They are seldom shown today and hardly foreshadow the great artist he was to become.

The portrait at the top is badly flawed. The figures only tentatively occupy the space in which they stand. The design is rather pedestrian and the overall grouping of the figures is weak. The forms of the heads are unconvincing, he doesn't quite express the difficult three quarter view of the heads. The painting seems a little like two canvasses sewed together, rather than one group of figures. The sitters look bored and a little taxidermal. The dog (lamb? rat? lemur?) jammed down into the lower left corner is a disaster.

Below is a portrait of his father successful miller, shipowner and grain merchant whose generosity allowed Constable to study painting and whose bequest upon hos death allow Constable to survive when his work went unsold.

Below is a portrait of Maria his wife, whose early death left Constable with seven children to raise.

Now I can hear you thinking, those portraits look pretty good to me. If they were done today they might be more highly regarded, but England of that era was a hotbed of portrait painters. Below are two examples of the Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) a great hero of Constable's who also painted landscapes. Constable was to outstrip him in that though.

I guess this is a taste test, I hope you can see how much better the Gainsborough portraits are than the Constables. The delicacy, fluid handling and immediacy of the Gainsborough's makes the Constables look a little homemade and primitive by contrast. That's why Constable got short money for them. If portraiture was all he had done, he would be forgotten today.

If you prefer the Constables, please refrain from telling me in the comments, and instead place a steel bucket on your head and roller-skate down the Guggenheim. I know who you are.


Brady said...

"...instead place a steel bucket on your head and roller-skate down the Guggenheim"

That is awesome! I'm still laughing over it!

But I do prefer the Constable's...

Sorry, I had to try to get a rise out of you!

You can definitely see that the Gainsborough's have more life to them.

In the Constable of his father (blue coat?) it looks like even the subject is embarrassed to be in the painting.

Anonymous said...

it's good to see these and read your thoughts on Constable's portraiture... excellent post Stape.

T Arthur Smith said...

Thanks for showing me another side of Constable! That last line of yours sounds like something out of "As Good As It Gets".

Jose Romero said...

"The dog (lamb? rat? lemur?)"
How about a meerkat?

Philip Koch said...

The roller-skating-steel-bucketed performance artist used his debut at the Guggenheim to catapult into the front line of the art world's deconstructionist vanguard!

Move over Duchamp- a new star is born!

mariandioguardi.com said...

Ha! Surprise! I prefer Gainsboroug's portraits. But I do like the idea of rollerskating down the Guggenheim with a bucket on my head. Reminds me of the time I rode my tricycle down the long flight of stairs (sort of).

Happy to hear that can resume my place on the lower rung of painting, being a still life painter and all. I fight better as the underdog.

Philip Koch said...

I think Stape is making the point that it's never too late for us landscape painters to make the switch and become second rate portraitists.

Antonin Passemard said...

Thanks for those Constable posts !

Mark Heng said...

Hmmm...Turner's portraits pretty much sucked too.

OK folks, let's play a little game- Who's better? Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, or Sir Thomas Lawrence?

Stapleton Kearns said...

They are in order:

Stapleton Kearns said...

OK no bucket!

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

T. Artur;
I have never seen a situation comedy in my life. I don't own a TV.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Meerkat,,,,a mess of good eatin!

Stapleton Kearns said...

It's probably been done. If there was a way to include a whack or two at the Catholics it might work, maybe some kind of a crucifix thing.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I know who you are.

Stapleton Kearns said...

All of the portrait painters I know want to be landscape painters.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome, thanks for reading.