John Constable (1776 – 1837), an English Romantic painter, was known mainly for his landscape paintings. Most of his landscape paintings depict different scenes of Dedham Vale. He created so many landscape paintings of this area that the Dedham Vale area is to this day known as “Constable Country.”
However, for various reasons, John Constable’s landscape paintings did not sell well during his lifetime. To earn an income, he created portraits – out of financial necessity and not because of a love of the genre. As a result, he sold only 20 landscape paintings in his home country, England, and France, a few more during his lifetime.
In this article, we’ll briefly look at the painter John Constable’s background and discuss some of the most famous John Constable paintings. Then, you’ll meet the real Constable artist and learn about painter John Constable by studying and understanding his landscape paintings.
John Constable’s Early Years
John Constable was born in East Bergholt, on the River Stour in Suffolk. His father was a wealthy corn merchant who wanted John to succeed him in the business. After leaving school, Constable worked in the corn business, but his younger brother eventually took over the business.
As a young man, Constable undertook amateur sketching trips in the surrounding countryside – the area which later became the subject of a large proportion of his art. Then, in 1799, Constable persuaded his father to let him pursue an art career.
He entered the Royal Academy Schools, attended life classes, and studied and copied old masters. In 1802 he finally decided to become a professional landscape painter. By 1803, he exhibited some of his paintings at the Royal Academy. He also adopted a routine of spending winter in London and painting at East Bergholt in summer.
Later Life of John Constable as an Artist
John married Maria Elizabeth Bicknell in October 1816. They had a honeymoon tour of the south coast of England. The sea at Weymouth and Brighton stimulated Constable to establish new color and brushwork techniques.
In 1819 the first critical John Constable painting, “The White Horse,” was sold. As a result of the success of this painting, Constable became an associate of the Royal Academy. Constable’s election as an associate of the Royal Academy inspired him to paint a series of six monumental landscapes. John Constable’s paintings were later called the “six-footers” because of their massive scale. Today, they are considered the most forceful landscapes created in the 1800s in Europe.
He was appointed the Visitor at the Royal Academy in 1831, where he was popular with the students. His public lectures on the history of landscape painting were well-attended.
More about Painter John Constable – Style
During the Romantic art period, emphasis was laid on emotion and individualism and glorifying the past and nature. John Constable was the most influential among the English Romanticists.
He was attached to the area where he was born, and most of the John Constable paintings depict the landscape of this area. As you learn about John Constable, you can see his attitude regarding the styles during his lifetime.
He rebelled against the Neoclassical style. Artists of the Neoclassical style used standard practices and mainly were used to depict mythical or historical scenes. Constable, however, focused on nature itself. He wanted to show its beauty and power.
Although Constable has never achieved financial success, he is now regarded as the painter who has made the most significant contribution to the landscape painting genre.
The Hay Wain
“The Hay Wain” was initially titled “Landscape: Noon.” This is one of the John Constable paintings which depicts a rural scene on the River Stour. He completed the painting in 1821. “Art lovers and scholars regard the Hay Wain” as the most famous image by the painter John Constable. Many also regard it as one of the most excellent and most popular English paintings.
The painting is an oil painting on canvas and depicts three horses pulling a wood wain or large farm wagon across the river. Willy Lott’s Cottage, a subject of another one of John Constable’s paintings, is visible on the far left.
“The Hay Wain” is one of the parts of masterpieces by Constable called the “six-footers” because of their large-scale canvases. John Constable also produced a full-scale oil sketch for this work. Although the painting is regarded as one of the greatest British paintings, it didn’t sell when it was initially exhibited.
John Constable completed this oil painting during the first three months of 1826 in his studio. “The Cornfield” is an oil painting by John Constable, completed in the artist’s studio from January to March 1826. This landscape depicts a lane leading from East Bergholt toward Dedham, Essex. It also has as subject a young shepherd boy drinking from a pool. Constable originally referred to this painting as “The Drinking Boy.”
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.
“The Cornfield” was exhibited in Paris from early November to the spring of 1828, but it didn’t sell, although it received a good reaction from art lovers.
Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows
“Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows” was one of the John Constable paintings created in 1831. Constable exhibited the painting 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 and those lines explained the painting’s meaning. The rainbow is the absolute symbol of hope after a storm that follows the death of Amelia in the arms of Celadon- her lover.
The more you learn about John Constable, the more you discover that this painting is a personal statement of his emotions and changing states 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.
Although only a few John Constable paintings were sold during his lifetime, he is today recognized as one of the best landscape artists ever. By studying his landscapes, you will learn about John Constable, the artist, and the man.