: impressions of land, sea and sky
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
John Constable (1776–1837) was one of the greatest British landscape painters, renowned for his landscapes, his ‘pure and unaffected representation of nature’. The breadth of his vision of the English countryside is evident in masterpieces such as Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds 1822–23, A boat passing a lock 1826 and The Vale of Dedham 1827–28.
Constable’s works – from the smallest pencil notation or oil sketch to the finished painting – reveal his deep understanding of nature. His rapid, on-the-spot sketches, such as Rainstorm over the sea c.1824–28, brought a new vivacity to the observation of nature, capturing the effervescent sensations of light and atmosphere. His art became the benchmark for naturalist painters in Europe in the nineteenth century. French artists were the first to be stimulated by the innovative character of his work, which brought a new boldness to the handling of paint.
Constable was a great innovator, but he also had a passionate interest in the works of the Old Masters, and in particular the great tradition of landscape painting of Claude and Ruisdael. He continued to study and copy the work of earlier artists for as long as he lived, constantly juxtaposing their interpretations of the natural world against his own experience of it. In some of his finest paintings, such as The Vale of Dedham, he adapted Claude’s compositional structure of trees framing a view overlooking a valley.
Constable had long felt that the sky was ‘the chief organ of sentiment’ in a painting, and Constable: impressions of land, sea and sky will include a group of his well-known sky studies, which capture unique atmospheric effects. These sky studies are wonderfully observed, recording the time of day, date, wind direction and weather conditions under which they were painted. They are also evidence of the astonishing range and skill of his oil-sketching method of painting outdoors, capturing the passing effects of nature and changing light. Later in his life Constable began to use stormy weather more self-consciously, as expressive of his own feelings.
Constable’s subjects were connected to the places he lived in and knew well. He combined truth to nature with truth to feeling. He created landscapes in which man worked in harmony with nature, capturing the freshness and sparkle of the landscape under sun and rain.
TOP 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
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