This week I have been to Flatford for a first test shoot around the area. I found it all a little bit overwhelming. I went with a National Trust guide who was so enthusiastic about what I was doing that I could hardly keep up with him and take it all in.
We began by looking around the site where the Haywain was sketched from – Constable made a lot of sketches and then painted the final paintings back in his studio.
Constable seems to have adjusted some of what he sees in order to make it look good on the canvas. The first thing that was pointed out to me was the roof on Willy Lott’s Cottage, in the Haywain painting it is much shorter than it is in real life.
The field at the back of the mill pond is now hidden by trees and long grasses and has a popular footpath running through it. The footpath where the dog is looking at the cart now has steps – incidentally the dark patch that can be seen on the painting next to the dog is from a painting underneath, the oil that has created the Haywain has worn thin over the years vaguely revealing what is underneath.
There is no fishing on the Mill Pond now and the only rowing boats are on The Stour, the other side of the mill.
I found that I couldn’t fit everything from the painting in my camera frame, even with my 18mm lens. I have had to stitch two photographs together in Photoshop. It is pretty close but still doesn’t include the end of the mill wall on the right side of the painting and also doesn’t include enough sky. Constable’s painting is dominated by a dark moody sky and I need to ensure that I include clouds too.
I took another couple of photographs and stitched them together with slightly more success. This time choosing to display the photograph in black and white with the contrast boosted to ensure as much detail can be seen as possible.
The second painting my guide talked to me about was Boat Building.
It had been raining heavily for several days before I went to take these photographs and the dock was full of water. Apparently there is a plug where the bow of the boat is in this painting that allows the water to drain out of the dock, under the canal and into a ditch on the far side of the river. I would like to return when the weather is dryer as some wooden boat rests can be seen in the dock when the water has gone.
My guide showed me an exact replica of one of Constable’s sketch books which includes a pencil sketch that he later used to help him complete the painting.
The National Trust cafe now sits on the right of this scene and wooden tables and chairs cover the field on the left.
Again I needed a very wide angle to take a photograph that included everything that is in the painting and still think that I could do with a slightly wider lens.
View on the Stour
A View on the Stour near Dedham is a view from the river, looking towards Dedham, at the entrance to the dry dock seen in the Boat Building painting above.
A new bridge has been built now and I was lucky enough to capture a wave from Mr and Mrs Claus as they were looking for small children to entertain. In the painting there is a lady with a baby on the bridge and as I was photographing a lady with a pushchair just happened to be passing across so I took another quick photograph of that. Also the cottage that can be seen on the right of the painting is now partially obscured by the cafe.
The season is closed for the winter and there are no boats on the river at all at the moment. There will be some small rowing boats available for hire from March or April but nothing the size of those in the painting and certainly nothing with a sail.
Dedham church, that can be seen in the distance of the painting is all but obscured by trees today.
I wasn’t standing in quite the right position for this photograph. I need to try again, standing closer to the dock and further to the right.
I have a panoramic setting on my camera and experimented with a panoramic photograph of the scene. It is quite interesting but I have taken it too low and missed the tops of the trees and sky from the image.
We crossed over the river to the foot of the bridge where my guide showed me the next view point.
Flatford Mill was painted a little differently to the others in the series. I understand that Constable set up a large piece of glass on a stand and etched into the glass what he saw through it. He then took that back to the studio took a rubbing of it which gave him a reverse image and then reversed and transferred that onto the canvas.
Constable did make other sketches from this spot which may also have helped him complete this painting.
Apart from the trees, this scene has changed very little since Constable painted it. And again I needed to stitch two photographs together in order to fit everything in the frame.
The painting shows quite a busy scene with people on both sides of the river but when I took these photos it was very cold and only a few dog walkers were around.
The ditch shown on the right of the painting is still in the landscape but cannot be seen from this angle. It goes from behind that green box and I think, in front of the trees. It is much smaller now than it was then.
We walked along the path ahead to the lock and the sight of the next painting, Boys Fishing.
Here I stopped a family and asked their two children to quickly pose for me.
I guess the main difference here is the lock. The lock in the painting has long since broken and the new lock was placed to the side of the original lock. I had taken in too much information by this point and was struggling to keep up with what my guide was saying so I will need to double check the details of this as I’m not sure if the footpath has been moved to the right too.
I only took one photograph of this scene because of the children getting bored and their parents also wanting to take photos and get in my space!
The viewpoint for The Lock is in the middle of the river so I am unable to photograph this viewpoint at the moment. I believe the boats will be available again in the spring so I may not be able to include this in my project until a later date.
Again it is worth noting that the lock is not the same lock and not in the same place so that will be reflected in my photograph when it is eventually taken. Below is the spot across the river that is the scene of The Lock but clearly not from the correct angle.
My guide had me climbing over the bank to show me a view of Willy Lott’s Cottage from the south of the river. Apparently there is a painting called The Ferry from this angle hanging in the Tate Gallery. I wasn’t aware of this painting and wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to be photographing.
This is the photograph I took without having seen the painting. Clearly I am the wrong side of the tree!
Finally, after battling my way through some very boggy reeds and stinging nettles my guide took me to the spot where the White Horse was painted.
Again it was tricky trying to get everything in the frame and I think I will need to take a couple of photographs and stitch them together. You will notice that the river has changed shape considerably here with ‘the spong,’ that piece of land that causes the river to fork slightly, has grown to make the scene almost unrecognisable.