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John Constable

British Painter

John Constable Photo

Born: June 11, 1776 - East Bergholt, Suffolk, England

Died: March 31, 1837 - London, England

"Landscape is my mistress - 't is to her that I look for fame - and all that the warmth of the imagination renders dear to Man."

John Constable Signature

Summary of John Constable

Along with J. M. W. Turner, Constable revolutionized landscape painting of the 19th century and his paintings had a profound and far-reaching effect on European art, particularly in France. Constable moved away from the highly idealized landscapes that were the expected norm of the period and instead favored realistic depictions of the natural world created through close observation. Constable is most clearly remembered for his bucolic images painted in and around the Stour Valley but he also produced over 100 portraits and a huge number of preparatory sketches often completed in oil. In these he experimented with a freer style of representation and this allowed him to capture the effects of elemental change on the countryside with a spontaneity which he was then able to transfer to his finished works. Although his sketches are considerably more impressionistic and less detailed than his display canvases his overall aim remained the same regardless of medium and technique - to depict the scenery that he saw in a truthful and realistic manner.

Key Ideas

Constable was a pioneering advocate of realistic depictions of the natural world. He rejected contemporary styles of landscape painting stating that "The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth". Instead he created his own distinct manner of representation based on transferring what he saw as truthfully as possible to a canvas.
He was fascinated by changing patterns of clouds, weather and light and he sought to capture these moments in his oil sketches. He worked with large, loose brushstrokes to create expressive representations which depicted an overall sense of what he saw rather than fine details. His sketches can be seen as an early precursor to the work of the Impressionists thirty years later.
Even in his completed work, Constable abandoned the traditional invisible brushstrokes that were expectations of Academic art of the period. Instead he applied paint in a range of ways including with a palette knife giving his canvases a textured and imperfect finish which served to enhance their realism.
Constable also utilized color more widely than was the norm, reflecting the hues he found in nature. He is particularly known for his unique addition of pure white highlights which served to represent the sparkle of light on water.
John Constable Photo

Born in East Bergholt, a village in Suffolk, England, John Constable was the second son of Golding and Ann (née Watts), wealthy corn merchants who owned Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and later Dedham Mill in Essex. Constable's older brother (also called Golding) was subject to seizures and was considered unfit to succeed his father into the family business. The task consequently fell to John and after leaving his school in Dedham, Constable joined his father in the corn business, a role for which he had limited enthusiasm and aptitude. Despite his disability Golding Jnr went onto to become a land warden and the two brothers remained close throughout their lives. Constable had five siblings in total, three sisters and another brother, Abram, who was the youngest member of the family.

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