Sunday, December 26, 2010

John Constable 1

Images from

The purpose of this blog is to be a delineation of the things I feel a painter, or most particularly a landscape painter ought to know. To that end I have written on art history as much as art technique. I think it of equal importance. I am going to turn my intention to arguably the most important and influential landscape painter , John Constable. He has always been a hero of mine and was the first great landscape painter I learned about as a young man in high school.

There were very few books on painting in those days, and those that were available were on the greatest of painters and except for a few of the French impressionists, almost never from the 19th century. So my taste was formed on Dutch painting and Constable. In a way that worked out well as these earlier artists formed as good base on which to build my later studies. They inspired all of the later painters that I would learn about as I grew into my twenties.

I constantly find students poorly informed on art history and that history before the 19th century is usually the least familiar to them. I have written some on the Dutch, now it is time Constable got his due. I am, of course, no scholar so this will be pretty basic. Sometimes I pretend I am writing the text for a comic book or baseball card. I hope that I can interest you in this history and you will go on with that familiarity to learn more.

John Constable was born in 1776 in Suffolk, England. His father owned a water driven mill and was a successful grain merchant. He grew up along a stretch of the river Stour and most of his well known paintings are of that small area. To this day that area is referred to as Constable country as he is one of Britain's most prized and popular painters.

Constable spent his youth roaming this lowland area and sketching, educated well he began a short lived career as a miller and corn merchant. However he wanted to be a painter so his father provided him with a small stipend and he enrolled in the school of the Royal Academy.

At the Academy Constable studied the work of the great painters including Rubens, who seems to me to have been a great influence and Claude Lorain, the little Dutch masters and Gainsborough who was from the same areas of England as John himself.


Brady said...

I love these posts on artists and art history.

Keep it up!

Philip Koch said...
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Philip Koch said...

Ah Constable!

Stape is right, back in the dark ages when he and I were coming up there really weren't as many books out on the old landscape painters. I was in my grad painting program at Indiana University. I had just started looking at 19th century landscape and I discovered a little paperback book on Constable in the campus bookstore. It had good color plates. BINGO!

I studied that book to within an inch of its life- doing copies of some of my favorite paintings, and literally taking the book out into the field with me when I painted outside.

Constable appealed to me because of his expressiveness and his naturalism. More than anything else, his work seemed to me to look like the forests I was trying to paint.

My great grandfather, john Wallace, had been a professional landscape painter in Scotland in the latter part of the 1800's, so the Constable tradition had influenced an earlier generation of my family as well. That link warmed me to Constable.

Art historically, Constable was one of the earlier landscapists who worked a ton outside in oil. And he did more serious study of clouds and skies from life than anyone before him. In a lot of ways he's a bridge between the tradition of the 17th century masters and the soon to come impressionists. That's a pretty important bridge.

While there are other painters I feel closer to, I have to tip my hat to this Constable fellow. He was a huge gust of wind in my sails at just the right time. Sometimes an artist from the past will reach out and give you just the right push to get you moving.

Deborah Paris said...

Constable is one of my art heroes (and a big influence on both my process and work) -so glad to see you taking him up on this blog. The storage area in my studio where I keep large canvases is called the Constable Closet (in honor of his six footers)!

Constable was a quiet revolutionary (unlike his contemporary Turner). My fav Constable quote- "I should paint my own places best, for they made me a painter"

barbara b. land of boz said...

Just played some catch-up after being out of pocket for a access to the web...was kinda nice.
Stapleton your time and effort is greatly apprecated. I'm not sure what drives you this hard, but I and so many others are lucky to have found you and your blog. I look forward to another year of my morning cup of joe...and Stape.
May the New Year bring much joy to you and yours. Also Happy Holidays from "the land of boz"......

Stapleton Kearns said...

Good; here comes another and it is going to go on for a while.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think you and I followed a similar course in those days. I wonder if others did as well. It was rare for a young artist to be interested in old art then.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am going to write about the making of the six footers.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Welcome back to pocket and thank you. Merry Christmas!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Welcome back to pocket and thank you. Merry Christmas!

CANDY said...

Your lessons on art history are my favorites. They are greatly appreciated.