Friday, January 7, 2011

John Constable dressed in meat

Reader Michael Guilmet has provided me with an image of a little known portrait of John Constable wearing what certainly appears to be an eighteenth century meatsuit. Fashion is cyclical and gentlemen of that era frequently sent their tailors to local abattoirs to make these short lived but striking outfits. By keeping them in a well or under sawdust with ice when not in use, they could be made to last for weeks, even in warm weather. Evidently the Duke of Wellington was almost never seen without one.

Below are some of the outdoor sketches that Constable made. I have many in books but they are harder to find online. Incidentally Constable was NOT the first to do these outdoor "plein air" studies. While perhaps not the general working method of his day it was not unheard of and the ateliers in Rome, in particular, emphasized working from nature on location to their students.

These first two are definitely pochade (pronounced "pochade") studies and were of the sort that he made in the planning of a studio painting. Below is a little study of cattle that would have been useful as notes when dropping them into paintings.

Below are a couple of sky studies. Constable did lots of these. He stated that "the sky is the chief organ of sentiment in landscape painting.

Tomorrow I will post some of his drawings which I think are far more important to the understanding of his method. Incidentally, the meatsuit part is a hoax.

Thanks to www, for the images and also to


Todd Bonita said...

I love to see these rare studies, particularly the one of the cows where he is not so much interested in an overall landscape composition as much as he is using it as a reference. I do this sort of thing outdoors and wondered if it was a common practice. Sometimes I'll go out and just do a little study of a rock or tree or something...not as part of a landscape but simply to study painting the rock. Do you ever do this sort of thing Stape? How about the meat suit, you ever try that?...thats too funny, it must have smelled after a while.

CANDY said...

There is a little known followup painting of the same "Constable In Meatsuit" done a couple of weeks later, and renamed "Constable In Maggot-suit".
All of this Constable series was great, with the possible exception "throw your TV away"...;(

Unknown said...

On what sort of surface is that cow study painted? Can't tell if that is some sort of wood panel or if it is
paper of some kind.

Philip Koch said...

My morning ritual of coffee drinking and Stape-reading was tested somewhat by the oh so appetizing explanation of the little known 18th century "meatsuit" fashion tradition.

Moving on, that little oil study of just the clouds and tree tops has always been a favorite of mine. It helped dispel the lingering mental image alluded to in the above sentence.

billspaintingmn said...

"The sky is the chief organ of sentiment in a painting"
Is that because it can express mood, or drama? It sets the stage?

I would think if you cooked the meat first, it may last a bit longer. The grill marks could give it a plaid look! Hey porkchop ear muffs!

Barbara said...

Good laugh from Constable's meatsuit.

Darren said...

Not sure it's worth the current $450 but Constable's Clouds is a darn good book.

Deborah Paris said...

Yikes, Darren, that price is insane! I bought the hard cover a few years ago and I think I paid about $60. It is really good.

MCG said...

this meatsuit, and butter in your shoes, the epitome of Bovine Couture.

I am floored by the first sky study. I wonder if you or any readers have seen this in person. I wonder specifically, how thick/thin the edge work and impasto is in that sky in relation to the foreground....?

MCG said...

Stape, is Constable "smuggling red" into that first sky study? it sure looks so to me, but I'm not sure if it's just the photo.

Deborah Paris said...

I have not seen this one but have seen a number of others. The Constable's Clouds book has some good size reproductions of many sky studies. lots of brushwork and passages of thicker paint. He did many of his sketches on a warm wood ground so you see some of that coming through in many of them. Don't know if that is the case here or not but very likely.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I have but generally I am driving towards a particular painting. I have to be production oriented That comes with my territory.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I still advise you....throw your TV away.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I believe it was a little wooden panel. Sometimes cigar box lids were used in slightly later times.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The meat suit is a great thing to contemplate over breakfast. I have meat pajamas too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is the most emotionally expressive part of the painting, at least it was to Constable.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks to Michael Guilmet for providing that!

Stapleton Kearns said...

It wouldn't be in my budget!

Stapleton Kearns said...

That's more like it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't know if I have seen it. The Victoria and Albert has lots of these though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think he allowed the ground to show through to neutralize his color, so I suppose he did.