Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Constable 4

images from

I want to point out the difference between Constables paintings and those of the landscapists who preceded him. Above is a John Constable. It is naturalistic, that is, it is believable looking, rather than idealized and "mannered". Constable really got the look of nature in a way that preceding landscapists did not.

Above is a Claude Lorain. The earlier landscapists often saw the landscape in a classical manner. That was a traditional way of representing nature that relied as much on tradition as reference to actual vision. Constables paintings are made up of what earlier painters would have called splotches of paint, blots. He was showing the shimmering light reflecting from the things he was painting. The earlier painters painted the substance of the objects, Constable painted the effect of light upon them.

The branches of the trees in the Loraine seem leathery and look like that popular pattern of stoneware called willow. They reek of the studio, and sometimes look like they were done by a man who had heard about trees but had never actually seen one. Look at the tree in the Constable above and compare it with the Loraine below. All of the paintings on this page are wonderful art, but the Constables represent a new interest in presenting the actual appearance of nature.

Above, Salvatore Rosa. The earlier landscapists still thought of the landscape as a stage set that needed to be dignified by the presence of mythological figures or some storytelling aspect. This idea was reflected in Reynolds opinions on the hierarchy of painting., The paintings needed the figures and the narrative content to be high art. The Dutch didn't usually feel the need to do this though and that attitude was certainly a model for Constable.

Above is a Rubens. Rubens was a particular hero to Constable and he drew a lot of influence from him. The Rubens is still "classical" but they do have something in them that reminds me of Constable. Their handling is still "mannered", or executed in a standardized way rather than in clear imitation of nature. Constable remarked, that he saw "no handling" in nature.

Above is a Dutchman, Ruisdael. The area Constable painted, along the river Stour is in East Anglia, a low flat country very similar to that which the Dutch inhabited. There is a fondness for this low country amongst landscape painters and Seago worked this area too.


Philip Koch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philip Koch said...

Stape your pairing of the first Constable with the Claude Lorain is perfect, as is your commentary. Constable was able to get the same massiveness to his trees that the earlier painters did, but he added to that the feeling of real sunlight shining on their leaves. At his best Constable achieved a shimmering, energized vision of the solid, concrete world. It's quite impressive.

Deborah Paris said...

"They reek of the studio, and sometimes look like they were done by a man who had heard about trees but had never actually seen one."

Ahh, its never too early in the morning for a good Stape-ism.

Judithanne said...

Fabulous post about Constable. At the Currier Museum, Constable's Dedham Lock and Mill is described as an example of "his use of light as an evocative element". So, was his use of light an intentional device to evoke an emotional reaction? Or as a way to create a realistic landscape? Or both? Your thoughts?

Brady said...

I'm trying to see what you are saying about the trees.

The differences I see are that the Loraine's look almost like lolly pops in shape versus a more natural elongated "spiky" shape of Constable's.

I'm not sure what you mean by leathery branches, but the trunks and branches of the Constable's seem to have a grain to them while the Loraine's seem to have a more smooth texture and If I look closely seem to repeat the motif of the knot hole.

The light on the trunks and branches of the Lorain seems to be mostly nonexistent making them to be just thick dark lines, but with the Constable's I can see how the light picks out each trunk and branch, especially on the half dead one in front.

Also, the second tree trunk from the right in the Loraine looks like the end of a pitch fork, and not natural to me.

Are these some of the things you are talking about? Or were you looking at different things?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Constable painted pictures with light, Loraine had form but no light, no real feeling of nature. But he was a classicist and I am faulting him for something that was not his aim in the first place.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is sometimes too late at night to write them though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will attack that tomorrow night.

Stapleton Kearns said...

See if tonight's post answers your question.