United Kingdom • 1776−1837

Biografie und Informationen

John Constable (John Constable, June 11, 1776, East Bergholt, Suffolk, England - March 31, 1837, London) was a major British landscape painter of the Romantic era. He is famous for his depictions of the English countryside, especially his native Stour Valley. This area is now known as the Constable Country (Constable's Land).

Peculiarities of John Constable's work. At a time when landscape was the dominant genre in British art, John Constable occupied a unique place in the pleiad of landscape painters. He did not usually choose places that were popular with the general public or other artists, but depicted views with which he felt a personal connection. He was also the only one among his colleagues who widely practiced plein air oil sketches.

In his landscapes, especially those of his later period, Constable conveyed natural phenomena with surprising accuracy, such as the fleeting and vivid effects of a stormy sky. His paintings are deep and lasting meditations on the theme of rural life in Britain at a time of rapid social and economic transformation.

Famous paintings by John Constable. "Hay Wagon.", "Wivenhoe Park, Essex.", "View of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadow.", "View of Highget from the Hampstead Hills.", "The White Horse."

A miller from the provinces

"I associate my carefree childhood with all that lies on the banks of the Stour; those scenes made me a painter."john Constable confessed in a letter to John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury. The future artist grew up on his father's farm, a miller and corn merchant, and from childhood made amateur sketches of rural views in his native county of Suffolk. "The murmuring of the water under the mill wheel, the willows, the old rotted boards, the slime-covered piles, the brickwork - how I love it all."he wrote.

However, the young man was originally destined to be a miller, not a painter. Although he was the second son of his parents, his older brother was mentally handicapped. And so, after a short stint in boarding school and graduating from day school, young John was assigned to the family business. This explains his slow creative development: in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts self-taught from the province joined with the reluctant approval of his father was already a considerable age - in 23 years. And the management of his father's mills was taken over by his younger brother Avram.

At that time, historical painting was considered the most appropriate subject for students at the Academy. But Constable showed a special interest in landscape from the very beginning, and during his studies he was most inspired by the works of Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Lorrain, Peter Paul Rubens, Annibale Carracci и Jacob van Ruysdal.

Unfashionable Everyday Life

In 1802, John Constable resigned his position as instructor of drawing at the newly formed military college. His mentor Benjamin West thought this was the end of the artist's career. But he explained his determination to become a professional landscape painter: "For the past two years I have been searching for the truth from the second hand. I have not tried to present nature with the flight of fancy with which I intended, but rather I have tried to make my performance resemble others... The greatest vice of modernity is bravura, the desire to create something that is far from the truth. In the same year the young master showed his work for the first time at the Royal Academy.

In the first half of the decade, Constable favored watercolor and graphic art, producing fine works in these techniques (1, 2, 3). But his usual subjects - scenes of daily life - were unfashionable in an era that romanticized pristine nature and picturesque ruins. And so views of the ports on the southeast coast and the Lake District (1, 2) were overlooked by the public at the exhibitions in 1807 and 1808.

Constable himself confessed to his friend and biographer Charles Leslie that the grandeur and detachment of the mountains oppressed his spirit. He later wrote: "His nature was especially social and could not be satisfied with the landscape, however grand in human representation. He needed villages, churches, farmhouses and cottages.".

To make ends meet, Constable took up portraiture, but found it boring, even though he created beautiful images (1, 2, 3). Occasionally he also painted on religious subjects (1, 2, 3), but as one art critic put it, "his worth as a religious artist should not be overestimated.

All-Conquering Love

During another visit to his native East Bergholt in 1809, the painter fell in love with a young Maria Bicknellhe had met nine years earlier. But the girl's grandfather, local pastor Durand Rudd, considered Constable an unsuitable match for his granddaughter. He even threatened to disinherit her if she married a man lower on the social ladder. Maria had to admit that a penniless marriage would bury John's hopes for an artistic career.

The lovers continued to meet practically in secret for the next seven years, until his grandfather's heart softened. However, he gave his consent to the marriage mainly because John had inherited a fifth of their fortune after his parents' death.

The 40-year-old Constable and his 29-year-old wife spent their honeymoon on the south coast. There the artist began to paint in bright colors and bold strokes; it was then that he began a noticeable emotional rise in his work.

French Triumph

In 1817, with the birth of the first of their seven children, the Constable family settled in London. The artist needed professional recognition to support his family. And it came two years later, when he exhibited at the Royal Academy his first major canvas - "The White Horse". With it began a series of large-scale paintings - "six feet," as the painter himself called them (each is 6 feet wide, or more than 1.8 meters).

In 1821, Constable showed his Hay Wagon - now iconic to the British. However, at the time it was received without enthusiasm: the vigorous strokes of the artist were considered by critics to be sloppy. But the French Theodore Géricaultthe artist, who was in London at the time, praised his English colleague to the antiquities dealer John Arrowsmith upon his return to his native land. He bought four of Constable's paintings, including The Wagon, and he was right: the painting won a gold medal at the Salon de Paris in 1824. Not only that, Eugène Delacroix impressed by the "sloppy" brushstroke of the Briton, rewrote the background of his "Massacres on Chios.".

In his lifetime, Constable sold only 20 paintings in England, but in France he sold more than twenty in just a few years. In spite of this, he declined an overseas tour to promote his work. "I'd rather be a poor man [in England] than a rich man abroad."he explained.

Gone Angel

In January 1828 - shortly after the birth of her seventh child - Maria Constable, who had long suffered from consumption, died at the age of 41. The inconsolable artist wrote: "Every hour I feel the loss of my departed Angel - God knows how my children will grow up... For me, the face of the World has completely changed. Since then, according to biographer Charles Leslie, he dressed only in black and became "a victim of melancholy and anxious thoughts. Constable cared for his children for the rest of his life.

While Mary was ill, the family moved to Hampstead, a suburb of London. There Constable began to paint sketches of the sky, carefully documenting well-recognized meteorological phenomena (1, 2, 3, 4). These sketches then became part of the composition of full-scale canvases.

By 1824, his pictorial style had become characterized by pictorial fragmentation, with which the artist sought to convey optical effects. Along with his use of vivid and vibrant colors, this led many to erroneously refer to him as the forerunner of Impressionism.

Alienation and depression

In the later period, Constable stopped painting certain places - partly because he was making sketches in different regions: in Salisbury or in the fashionable seaside resort of Brighton, where Mary was trying to improve her health. But this abstraction and refusal to depict farm labor can be interpreted differently. The economic depression after the Napoleonic Wars brought agriculture into decline. Contrary to this, the conservative Constable chose to sing of a distracted "good old England" unaffected by industrial and social change.

The painter became a member of the Royal Academy of Arts late - in 1829 at the age of 52 - largely due to his difficult character. His letters of the 1830s are full of alienation and depression. Such sentiments were no doubt fueled by the critical attacks that rained down on him and William Turner since the mid-1820s. Although these masters were never close and approached landscape painting differently, both grew up in the tradition of Sir Joshua Reynolds. And this deserved neglect in the eyes of a new generation of artists and critics who were shaping their own values in a rapidly evolving industrial society.

Nevertheless, Constable continued to work. After Mary's death, 20,000 pounds remained, and he decided to publish a series of etchings (mezzotint) based on his paintings (1, 2, 3). However, indecision and constant doubts served him poorly. Work on four dozen prints dragged on, one of which the artist corrected 13 times. As a result, when the collection entitled The English Landscape was published, it did not interest the required number of subscribers. The enterprise failed financially.

Ode to the Past

In 1836, John Constable presented his last painting at the Royal Academy - "Cenotaph in memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds on the grounds of Coleorton Hall, Leicestershire." (A cenotaph is a symbolic tomb containing no remains). The work was dedicated to "the father of British art," whom the painter revered. This painting became an ode to the passing of the traditional world in which Constable's personal and artistic values were formed.

He himself died on the night of March 31, 1837, apparently of indigestion, and was buried beside Mary in St. John's Cemetery on Hampstead. In the same family crypt their two sons, John Charles and Charles Golding Constables. In 1888, the painter's daughter Isabel donated her father's work to the British nation.

Some of John Constable's living descendants are continuing the work of their famous forebear. For example, 47-year-old painter and sculptor Sasha Constable lives and works in Cambodia. In 2003, she exhibited her work along with paintings by her father, Richard Golding Constable.


John Constable gained a reputation as a respected and important landscape painter during his lifetime. But in the biography published six years after his death by Charles Leslie, he is also presented as a sincere and dedicated artist who fought against lawlessness and misunderstanding. In fact, the author has edited his correspondence to conceal his friend's least appealing character traits.

By the early twentieth century, Constable's work was overrated. In an attempt to find the British predecessors of Impressionism, art historians gave undue importance to his oil sketches. At the end of the last century, this field of study was considered controversial on the basis of historical facts.

Some scholars also try to interpret the artist's landscapes in the context of his era and see them as complex works of art, often with deep political undertones. Others prefer to see them as quintessentially authentic English style and way of life. The fact that the debate continues confirms the vitality of John Constable's landscapes.

Author: Vlad Maslov