John Constable was a contemporary of and greatly admired by Eugène Delacroix, he ranked with Joseph Mallord William Turner as one of one of the greatest British landscape artists.
Showing an early talent for art he painted mostly the scenery of his beloved hometown in Suffolk England. He joined the Royal Academy Schools in
1799, however his talent was so slow to develop that it was not until 1829 that he was grudgingly made a full Academician, elected by a majority of only one vote.
Finally, in the 1820's he began to win recognition with winning a gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1824.
Constable made innumerable studies from nature for each of his canvases, developing his own original treatment from his attempts to render scenery more directly and realistically. In his quest for the reality of the landscape Constable studied it like a meteorologist (which he was by avocation). To Constable:
`No two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world',
.... and in a then new and novel way, he represented in paint the atmospheric effects of changing light in the open air, the movement of clouds across the sky, and his excited relishment at these wonders, stemming from a profound love of the country.....
`The sound of water escaping from mill dams, willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts and brickwork, I love such things. These scenes made me a painter.'
His gift was to render the shifting flicker of light and weather. To do so he abandoned the fine traditional finish by catching the sunlight in blobs of pure white or yellow, and the drama of storms with a rapid brush. A marvel at displaying textures in his landscape with atmosphere he used climate and the weather to delicately veil what is seen. Atmosphere for him was the key to revealing the endless process of nature, which changes ceaselessly through the hours of the day, and through the shifts of seasons. Using tiny dabs of local color, stippled with white, he created for the first time the sparkling light and hue shimmering across the canvas surface--the vibrations suggesting movement to the observer.
Sketching and drawing in oils for the most part in open air, Constable completed his works in his studio. For his most enterprising works--`six-footers' as he called them--he followed the unusual technical procedure of making a full-size oil sketch, and in the 20th century there has been a tendency to commend these even more highly than the finished works because of their freedom and freshness of brushwork.
In commenting about the qualities he expressed in his works he talked about "light--dews--breezes--bloom--and freshness, not one of which ... has yet been perfected on the canvas of any painter of the world." These are the qualities that startled young Delacroix when he saw The Haywain. John Constable confidence in painting nature is evident of his scientific studies of nature. In France he was a major influence on Romantics where is art became a bequest to the Impressionists.
In England Constable had no real successor and the many imitators. He married Maria Bicknell in 1816 who later died in 1828, however, and the remaining years of his life were clouded by despondency. John Constable died on March 31, 1837, and was buried in St. John's church, London.
An image of The Haywain may be viewed at
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