This week I have been contemplating what I have been learning about Constable. I have known his name for as long as I can remember and I have tramped or rowed around Constable country for more hours than I can count but I have never really known anything about him other than that he is a painter.
Although I had known the Hay Wain and even completed a tapestry (it is now retired to the attic) of it a few years ago I had never studied it and never made the effort to visit it in person.
When I visited London the other week I had the chance to see both the sketch and the final painting. As you would expect, the sketch was much rougher than the original but still a worthy painting. While the final painting was much more detailed than I had imaged it would be.
I had read that there were a number of people in the painting but it was only up close that I could make out all the people in the background gathering in the corn. Even the man in the boat is quite difficult to see in some prints.
I had been told how Constable changed things in his painting as he went along and spotted this barrel beneath the ripples in the ford, itself painted over a boy on a horse as can be seen in the sketch above.
I wrote a blog entry about Constable’s biography a few days ago and wrote about how in 1821 he had planned to enter a scene of Waterloo Bridge into the Royal Academy’s Annual Exhibition but at the last minute changed his mind and quickly created the Hay Wain. This bottom left corner of the painting shows the hurried brush strokes Constable used and that makes the painting almost look unfinished especially compared to some of his other works.
I thought Boat Building was a nice painting, smaller than I was anticipating but very detailed. I didn’t study it for long though because I was really taken with Salisbury Cathedral.
I thought the light was great, the detail was fantastic and I really like the way the Cathedral is framed by the trees. I like too that Constable has included his friend Revd John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury in the bottom left corner walking through the church grounds with his daughter.
It is this painting of the Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds that I think is my favourite. I had not noticed it before in any of the books that I have been reading but when I saw it in the gallery I just had to stop for several minutes and have a closer look. It felt like I was looking at a photograph it was so detailed and realistic.
The Cenotaph is in the grounds of Coleorton House in Leicestershire where it was erected by Sir George Beaumont in memory of English painter Joshua Reynolds. The bust on the left is of Michelangelo while that on the right is Raphael.
I now have a real fondness for Constable, not just because of the familiarity of the Hay Wain and the Essex/Suffolk countryside but I now also have a great respect for his talent and his determination to stick with the subject matter that mattered to him despite it being unfashionable. Apart from his paintings he lived a real life love-story that surely any girl is going to fall for!