John Constable (1776-1837) is regarded as one of the best Romantic British landscape artists, and many art historians deem him the most famous British landscape artist ever. As a member of the Royal Academy, he also had a significant influence on other landscape artists and art lovers during the Romantic period in the late 1700s.
Constable adored the countryside and nature and was a true landscape lover. He depicted subjects in his landscape paintings in a typical Romantic style. Thus, to fully understand his work, you have to know something about the characteristics of Romanticism. The Classical philosophy regarding the “use” and meaning of landscape painting changed during the Romantic period.
This article will briefly look at Romanticism, John Constable as a person and artist, and a few of his most famous landscapes.
Basics of Romanticism in Art
Romanticism was an orientation that characterized many artworks in Western civilization from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s. In principle, Romanticism rejected the order, calmness, balance, and rationality of Classicism during the late 18th-century.
Romanticism emphasized the individual with its subjectiveness and irrationality. Romantic art tended to be imaginative, spontaneous, emotional, and transcendental.
The characteristics of Romanticism included a strong appreciation of the beauties of nature and the exaltation of emotion over reason. In addition, Romantic artists believed that a creative spirit was more important than strict adherence to formal rules.
Some British painters started in the 1760s and 1770s to paint subjects different from the Classical period’s strictly historical and mythological subject matter. They also defined their images with linear drawing and bold contrasts of light and shade.
The following “generation” of English Romantic artists developed and cherished Romantic landscape painting. They emphasized the dramatic effects of light, color, and atmosphere and portrayed a very dynamic natural world full of grandeur.
Many art historians and scholars deem the painter John Constable as the most important landscape painter in the British Romantic period.
About Painter John Constable’s favorite Place to Paint
Famous painter John Constable was born in Suffolk in East Bergholt. While still a young man, he undertook amateur sketching trips in the surrounding countryside. In most of his later landscapes, he depicted different scenes of the River Stour and Dedham Vale.
He created so many landscape paintings of this area that he loved dearly that the Dedham Vale area is known as “Constable Country.” Most of his more than 160 paintings were created in Dedham Vale and its surroundings and depicted the area from various angles.
John Constable’s Early Life
Constable’s father, a wealthy corn merchant, expected John to succeed him in the corn business. Therefore, after he had left school, he started to work in his father’s business, but his younger brother eventually took over the business.
In 1799, decided to pursue an art career. He entered the Royal Academy Schools, where he attended life classes. He also studied and copied old masters. In 1802 he finally decided to follow his dream and become a professional landscape painter.
By 1803, he exhibited some of his paintings at the Royal Academy.
Later Life of John Constable and his “Six-footer” Landscapes
Constable got married to Maria Elizabeth Bicknell in October 1816. During their honeymoon tour of the south coast of England, the sea at Weymouth and Brighton stimulated him to develop new color and brushwork techniques.
In 1819 one of John Constable’s paintings, “The White Horse,” was sold, and he also became an associate of the Royal Academy. Later, in 1831, he was appointed Visitor at the Royal Academy, and his public lectures on landscapes’ history were very popular.
Constable was inspired by his election as an associate of the Royal Academy to paint a series of large landscape paintings. These works came to be known as the “six-footers” because of their enormous size.
The series includes the following Romantic style landscape paintings:
- “Stratford Mill,” (1820),
- “The Hay Wain,” (1821),
- “View on the Stour near Dedham” (1822),
- “The Lock” (1824), and
- “The Leaping Horse” (1825).
The Hay Wain
The Hay Wain – John Constable
The best way to learn about John Constable is to study his Romantic-style landscapes. “The Hay Wain” was completed in 1821 and originally titled “Landscape: Noon.” It shows a rural scene on the River Stour.
“The Hay Wain” is regarded as the most famous image by the painter John Constable. The painting is an oil painting on canvas and portrays three horses pulling a wood wain or large farm wagon across the river.
“The Hay Wain” is one of the parts of paintings by Constable called the “six-footers.” Interestingly, Constable also produced a full-scale oil sketch for this work.
John Constable completed this oil painting in his studio in 1826. This landscape depicts a lane leading from East Bergholt toward Dedham, Essex, in typical Romantic style. It also has as subject a young shepherd boy drinking from a pool.
Constable painted the trees and plants in this painting as accurately as possible. The engraver David Lucas was commissioned by Constable to produce the painting plates for a book called “Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery,” published in July 1830.
Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows
Salisbury Cathedral From the Meadows – John Constable
“Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows” was one of the John Constable paintings created in 1831. Constable exhibited the painting in the Romantic style at the Royal Academy in 1831, but he worked on it between 1833 and 1834.
Constable added nine lines from “The Seasons” by the eighteenth-century poet James Thomson to the painting. Those lines explained the painting’s meaning: The rainbow is the symbol of hope after a storm that follows the death of the young Amelia in the arms of her lover Celadon.
This is typical of the Romantic painter. The landscape is a personal statement of his emotions and changing state of mind. Many art historians are also of the opinion that the painting has possible political meanings. The most popular theory depicts the clash of industrialization and nature.
The landscapes painted by John Constable tell you in typical Romantic period style about Constable artist emotions and inner feelings. By studying his landscapes, you will learn about John Constable, the artist.