Tuesday, January 4, 2011

John Constable, The White Horse

In 1819 Constable showed the first of his "six footers", the White Horse at the Academy. He was in his early forties and was unhappy with some of the places his paintings had hung in previous exhibitions. In those days the halls were hung with the walls covered with paintings from floor to cornice. Paintings were often "skied" that is hung so high off the floor that they were nearly impossible to see. It was very important to get your painting hing "on the line" where it could be seen. Really big paintings were much less likely to get skied.

Constable was ambitious and wanted to vastly increase his profile at the Academy. He did it by making enormous landscapes. Others had shown large landscapes before, Turner for one. Constable wanted to make showstoppers. The first of these yearly projects was "The White Horse.

There has been a great deal of interest and scholarship surrounding how these paintings were made. Constable did drawings and small pochade (pronounced "pochade") sketches from nature first. He was not the first painter to make plein air studies by any means. I think rather too much is made of the fact that he did little outdoor sketches, but I will come back to that. He also made pencil drawings. Below is one of those, for the White Horse.

He next did something very unusual though. He made a full sized sketch. A roughly painted trial run of the actual painting. He in effect, made the entire painting twice. Below is the full sized sketch of the White Horse. It is the same size as the finished picture at the top of the page.


CANDY said...

Thanks for FINALLY clarifying the pronunciation of "pochade" ;)

Billy Guffey said...

I'm sorry, I didn't catch that. How did you pronounce that again?

Bill said...

What's the source of the sketchbook image? I love looking at artist's sketchbooks.

I visited Constable country a couple of years ago on a tour for a too short couple of hours. Well worth a visit, it would be a wonderful place to go paint.

Karla said...

I'm trying to find your new blog with the search feature. I'm still reading the old one. Can somebody help? thanks!

Karla said...

While searching for the new blog format I came across this page. http://canvoo.com/buzz/quotes/Stapleton+Kearns

Lots and lots of quotes by you. Fun to read again.

Clem Robins said...

fascinating. i love this string.

i'm still finding myself liking the rougher full-sized image more than the finished one. but you're not yet done making me smarter.

billspaintingmn said...

By painting twice, do you suppose he was familiarizing himself with the scene. Deciding what and what nots?

Philip Koch said...

Great stuff- I love the little drawing Constable worked from! You can see his mind breaking down the scene as he worked.

I think Constable adopted the practice of trying out the full sized studies after he screwed up on earlier pieces that were promising when begun but then headed south. When I get a really good study, I won't touch it because I want to preserve what's good in it at all costs. I'll often make a copy and then try additional moves on that second surface.

And yes, it is so good to be reminded that "pochade" rhymes both with "Cod" and "Arcade". Truly a remarkable word.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stape, This is the best series yet, you just get better and better!
I find when I draw/paint a scene over and over( I did this originally because I was so inept!) the details became less important and my feeling about the place are better expressed.
Came across this quote by Delacroix,"Even when we look at nature, our imagination constructs the picture; we do not see blades in a landscape, nor minute blemishes in the skin of a charming face. Our eyes are fortunately incapable of perceiving such infinitesimal details and only inform the mind what it needs to see. Again, the mind itself has a special task to perform without our knowledge; it does not take into account all that the eye offers, but connects the impressions it receives with others that have gone before, and depends for its enjoyment on conditions present at the time. This is so true, that the same view will not produce the same impression when seen from a different angle." The Journal of Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) by Hubert Wellington.
Some of my oldest books have gotten so expensive online that I keep them in ziplock bags!!
Wait a minute the ups just delivered another book!!
I promise no matter how valuable you are I won't try to bag you!!
So thankful, Terry

Stapleton Kearns said...

There had been some confusion there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It rhymes with krochade

Stapleton Kearns said...

I suggest you grab the new Victoria and Albert Constable book. They own lots of the studies.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Those are links to things I have written from the nice folks over at Fine Arts Views. They are a solution to the artists website needs.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have been known to make people dumber.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I discuss that one tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think the same. Sometimes being a painter yourself puts things into a perspective the art historians miss.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am baggy already.