DETAIL: John CONSTABLE,  Great Britain 1776 � 1837  'Harwich Lighthouse' c.1820 oil on canvas Tate, London, gift of Maria Louisa Constable, Isabel Constable and Lionel Bicknell Constable in 1888 Tate, London 2005
John CONSTABLE | Windermere

Great Britain 1776 – 1837
Windermere 1806
watercolour and very faint pencil
20.2 (h) x 37.8 (w) cm
Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, gift of T.W. Bacon in 1950
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This watercolour and The Castle Rock, Borrowdale 1806 (cat. 3) are examples  of Constable’s work during his only visit to the Lake District from  1 September to 19 October 1806 – encouraged and supported by his maternal uncle, David Pike Watts.

Constable drew and painted around Kendal, Brathay, Skelwith, Thirlmere, Windermere, and spent at least three weeks in the Borrowdale area. He made almost one hundred drawings and watercolours during this sketching trip, working on the spot, and showing for the first time his interest in atmospheric phenomena, noting on the back of a number of his works the time of day and observations on the weather, a practice he continued throughout his life. He captured the way the terrain altered in appearance with the changeable weather and light conditions.

In this view of Lake Windermere Constable painted freely in a restricted palette, overlaying washes of colour, using very little pencil outlining, to capture the moisture laden atmosphere of the scene. He depicted  a natural, uncultivated landscape.

C.R. Leslie, Constable’s friend and biographer, commented on Constable’s Lake District images:

They abound in grand and solemn effects of light, shade and colour, but from these studies he never painted any considerable picture, for his mind was formed for the enjoyment of a different class of landscape. (Leslie (1843/45) 1951, p. 18)

Subsequent writers have questioned the truth of Leslie’s claim that the solitude of the mountains oppressed Constable’s spirits, pointing out that he stayed in the region for about two months, and exhibited at least ten Lake District scenes between 1807 and 1809. Moreover, his inscriptions on the back of his Lake District works are often enthusiastic. Thus, as Charles Rhyne has observed, ‘far from being depressed by the solitude of the mountains’:

Constable was inspired to paint watercolours which may capture the fluid atmosphere and rich chiaroscuro of mountain scenery more successfully than those of any previous western painter’ (C. Rhyne, ‘The drawing of mountains: Constable’s 1806 Lake District tour’, in The Lake District: A sort of National Property: Papers presented to a symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 20–22 October 1984, 1986, p. 68).

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