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Throughout his working life Constable copied the work of earlier landscape artists as quick sketches and in facsimile, seeking to understand how best to visualise nature. He copied artists as diverse as Cozens, Cuyp and Rubens. But the artists he copied most frequently were the seventeenth-century landscape artists Claude Lorrain and Jacob van Ruisdael.
Constable sought ideas about pictorial approach and composition from earlier landscape artists, however, that never conflicted with his avowed intent to paint from nature.
Constable described the French artist Claude Lorrain as ‘the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw’. He regarded his copies of Claude Lorrain’s work as ‘great delights’ that brought him closer to this artist he so admired. He also adapted the composition of Claude’s Landscape with Hagar and the Angel 1646–47 for his own painting The Vale of Dedham 1827–28.
The atmospheric effects and outdoor naturalism of the Dutch landscape artist, Jacob van Ruisdael appealed to Constable. He wrote that: ‘I have seen an affecting picture this morning by Ruisdael; it haunts my mind and clings to my heart … the whole is so true, clean and fresh.’
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