Just before Easter we were given an assignment to create a still life image that we may be able to use to highlight our Final Major Project.
Although it was suggested that we might have time to made available to us to create our image in the studio, as I am photographing Constable’s landscapes I discussed it with my lecturer and she agreed that I could do my assignment in Flatford by the River Stour.
Due to inclement weather on several days during my visit I didn’t have a lot of time to complete the assignment. I had planned to take a photograph of my tripod and camera with my walking boots and some ‘Constable props’ by it on the bank of the river. In the end I remembered to take an additional camera with me so that I could swap it and put that on the tripod and use my ‘good camera’ for taking the photo. I called in, early in the morning to my National Trust guide friend and collected a print of Constable’s portrait and one of his many books. At the river I tried a few different arrangements and took a few test shots, adjusting things until I was happy. I decided not to include my walking boots in the end as I had chosen what looked like a sunny spot on some grass but was actually quite wet and muddy and deceivingly cold.
I could have done with a cloth and some polish to clean the portrait before photographing it but overall I think this will do just fine. I particularly like the duck that is just swimming along in the background and slightly out of focus especially as Constable included ducks in so many of his paintings of the area.
I was using my Sony Alpha camera with my 18-200mm lens and as it was so bright I was able to use ISO 100, f4.5 at 1/400 sec. I was keen for the props to stand out from the background.
It Lightroom I increased the clarity and the vibrance slightly and upped the grain as I didn’t want it to look too ‘smooth’ and perfect. I used Silver FX Pro to change a copy of the image to black and white and apply a small vignette.
Then, to reflect the layering in my final photos I opened both the black and white and the colour image in Photoshop then selected the portrait of Constable in the colour version and pasted it onto a new layer in the black and white version. I reduced the opacity in order to line the two images up precisely before increasing it again. then, on an adjustment layer I added a radial transparency graduation that blurred the edges of the join. I wasn’t happy with that as there wasn’t much of the portrait visible so I undid that move, adjusted the graduation settings and applied it again. It took a few attempts and in the end I was quite satisfied with this.
Before exporting and applying my logo I created another version and cropped it squarely so that I have two versions that I can use for different applications.
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!
My latest photoshoot for my final major project was a bit of a disaster. I went over to Flatford early one morning to have another go at the Boat Building image and also the View on the Stour near Dedham. It was a lovely clear morning that could have done with a few more clouds in the sky to add interest to my photos but with limited days available to me and several rainy days that had already prevented me from photographing I couldn’t be too fussy.
I had a book of Constable’s paintings with me and used that to help me set the tripod and camera in the right place. I followed all my usual steps and took around 30 photos for the first panorama.
I then moved on and used the book again to set up for the second panorama. Again I took around 40 photographs.
People were beginning to arrive and get in the way of my shots so I packed up and headed home again. I stopped off in East Bergholt and took a couple of photographs around the village which I’ve used to illustrate an earlier post describing Constable’s Biography.
Sadly when I tried to download the memory card onto my laptop I found that several of the images ‘could not be found’ and others could not be joined together in a panorama. I have put this down to a corrupted memory card. It was a bit frustrating but I have managed to salvage a couple of photographs.
I’m reasonably happy with this image. I like that you can see the boat rests in the dock. I had been a few days earlier and there was still water in the bottom as they had only recently begun to drain it.
I still haven’t found a good sized copy of Constable’s Boat building painting but I have quickly dropped the image I do have on top of my panorama so that you can see how it would look.
For the View on the Stour photograph the sun was casting very strong shadows and had the photos been able to merge successfully I would have needed to edit my own shadow out in the lower part of the shot. A visit later in the day would have been better but then I would have struggled with people in the shot.
Again, I’ve quickly dropped a copy of the painting onto the panorama. It won’t line up precisely as this part of the river was altered when the second lock was installed just to the left of the photograph.
I’m happier with this image and think I might be able to work on this photograph and possibly use this in my final exhibition.
I haven’t written a reflection recently, preferring instead to include my thoughts in my blog posts. However, as my tutor is keen for me to include my personal experiences I thought I would share with you my experiences of visiting a couple of galleries in London last week.
I have been promising to go to London and visit the galleries that hold Constable paintings for several weeks or even months now and last week was when I actually went.
I was staying in Essex and caught a train into Liverpool Street that arrived around 10:00. It was quite empty but there was a man on the seat in front of me that that kept sniffing and slurping his drink and then there was a man next to me across the aisle who was also sniffing and blowing his nose. It was a bit annoying and did make me feel a bit sick but I am a woman of patience, little did I know that this was the start of a very testing day.
On arriving at Liverpool Street I chose to get the tube over to South Kensington where I could begin at the V&A and then walk back across London to the Tate Britain and then the National Gallery. I won’t mention the large school party that tried to get on the tube and exit at the same station as me, they were only mildly frustrating as they took up the whole platform and waited on the exit stairs for everyone to gather together.
I’ve not been to the V&A before and was blown away by the scale of the museum and the size of some of the exhibits. They are beautifully laid out and there is a wonderful range of items on display. With no time to spare I headed straight for the paintings area and the two galleries that hold the Constable paintings. As far as I could tell, the two galleries that hold the Constable paintings were the only two galleries in the whole museum that were closed! Only in England does a flagship museum choose to change the lightbulbs in the middle of a busy Easter school holiday! I asked the man atop of the cherry picker if they were going to to reopen the galleries and he very politely said that they would only be an hour. Not a problem I had seen some very interesting exhibits on my way and would be pleased to go back and view them in more detail.
After pootling around the theatrical exhibit and taking in some lovely Beatrix Potter illustrated letters I went back to the painting area. The workmen were still busy and as there was a sign that said if I needed any help would I please speak to a member of staff, I spoke to a member of staff. Her initial response was “Its nothing to do with me, you need to ask the contractors!” I gave her a ‘look,’ to which she responded “Alright. I’ll go and ask them.”
It turned out that they had been asked to do another piece of work and were going to be another hour. They did concede that they would reopen the second gallery but needed to keep the first gallery closed for safety reasons. I asked the member of staff if it would be possible to let me into this first gallery for a few minutes to view Constable’s Hay Wain sketch and the Salisbury Cathedral painting for a few minutes before they began work again to which she responded “You can see them from here.” I was several metres away behind a rope and at 90 degrees to most of the paintings. I began to explain that I was only in London for the day, I wouldn’t be able to get back again for some time and that I was interested in Constable for my degree course to which she replied “There is some of his paintings in the other gallery, you can go and look in there…” By this time I was more than a bit peeved and couldn’t bring myself to give her another ‘look.’ Instead I simply pointed and said “But it is the Hay Wain sketch I particularly need to see.” She responded by helpfully pointing out “Well you’ll just have to wait then.”
I was so cheesed off at that response that I stormed out of the museum. I say that I stormed out, it is such a big museum and I didn’t know the way out. It took me about 10 or 15 minutes to finally make my dramatic exit!
I don’t really know that part of London very well but when I saw a familiar fast food logo I thought I would drown my sorrows in a burger, fries and diet coke. I dutifully queued at the quick service till only to have four or five very tall international teenage boys push in front of me. I resisted the urge to point out that that is not the way to queue and instead moved across to a ‘slow’ till.
As I had been marching down Kensington High Street I had passed Holy Trinity Church, Brompton which advertised that it had a cafe. After my burger I thought I would go back to the church and sit in the cafe while I waited for the workmen in the V&A to finish. The cafe is advertised as being open from 11:00 to 16:00 on a Thursday so I was surprised to see, after walking down quite a long drive, that there was a notice on the door saying ‘reopens at 2pm.’ Only in England would a cafe be shut at lunchtime!
It was a beautiful day and the church has a lovely garden so I consoled myself by sitting in the sun for half an hour.
Back in the V&A the workmen had gone and I was able to get a good look at the paintings but time was pressing on and although I now didn’t have time for the Tate Britain I could still visit the National Gallery if I walked quickly.
I walked down Kensington High Street, along Hyde Park and over towards Buckingham Palace, along the Mall and into Trafalgar Square.
The National Gallery was heaving and not a pleasant place to be. The final painting of the Hay Wain is there and I was interested to watch several people pointing it out and talking about it. My Mum rang me while I was in there so I tried to escape quite quickly but again couldn’t find my way out and had to ask a member of staff how to get out!
I headed back along the Embankment to Liverpool Street and as I approached I rang my brother and asked what train he planned to get home. He was already on the train, the front coach on platform 12. I had 10 minutes so I ran across the concourse to platform 12 and down all eight coaches to try and find him but he wasn’t there. I rang him again only for him to double check and let me know that he was actually on platform 11. This was not just across the platform but back up the eight coaches to the ticket barrier and then all the way down another eight coaches to the front of the next train. Just as I jumped onboard the signal went and we pulled away as I was sitting down.
I had arranged to meet someone briefly at Ipswich station to collect something before returning to Colchester and eventually home on the Clacton line. As I was at the front of the train with my brother for his stop, I was the wrong end for a quick getaway at Ipswich and found myself running along the platform, back up the eight coaches and over the bridge just as they were announcing that the next train to Colchester was the next train at platform 2. I dashed out of the station met my friend, grabbed what I needed, ran back into the station and straight onto the train.
At Colchester I was again the wrong end of the train and with just three or four minutes to spare ran back up the platform, along all eight coaches, then past the shops and onto the Clacton line train where I finally fell exhausted into a seat. Joy of Joys, when I arrived at my final station I got off the train at exactly the right place to leave the station without having to take a step further than I needed to!
Throughout this traumatic day I did in fact learn something! I was struck by Constable’s love of his local countryside and how he sketched and painted whatever was around him, wherever he was, rejecting the popular mountainous landscapes of his predecessors preferring instead to paint ordinary life. Perhaps, alongside my panoramas of Constable’s landscapes I should include a panorama of one of my local landscapes?
John Constable was born in the Suffolk village of East Bergholt on 11 June 1776, the son of Golding and Ann Constable.
Plaque at the site Constable’s childhood home.
The original house on this site was burned down some years ago.
Golding Constable inherited Flatford Mill from his Uncle, Abram Constable, who didn’t have any children of his own. The family also had a part ownership in the mill at Dedham, a family farm at the back of the house at East Bergholt, two windmills, one at East Bergholt and one at Brantham, two briggs – ships that sailed around and into the Thames Estuary, one called Telegraph and one called Balloon. They also manufactured Lighters, the name for the barges used on the Stour and other canals in East Anglia, each capable of carrying 13 tonnes and towed by Suffolk Punch horses for a distance of some 23 miles between Manningtree and Sudbury. The lighters were used for carrying grain and coal along the Stour which during this period was a busy trade route. These lighters were to feature in many of Constable’s canal scene master pieces and would have been a familiar sight in Constable’s day.
Constable’s early life he was spent around some of East Anglia’s most idyllic countryside. This was to have a lasting impression throughout his life and was to become the main subject of his most notable works of art.
Constable’s older brother, also called Golding, had special needs. Unable to take over the family business he became a gamekeeper at Bentley woods, Suffolk. He was known to be ‘a fine shot with a gun’ and would occasionally supply Constable with a ‘feathered subject’ for him to sketch.
As the next male son John Constable’s destiny to become a miller and take over the running of the family business was almost fulfilled when he started work in one of the family windmills. This gave him an appreciation of the weather and cloud formations, all important for the operation of a windmill that needed to be turned into the wind in order to operate efficiently.
The windmill itself was to provide Constable with his earliest canvas as the earliest known work of art from Constable is in fact a carving depicting a windmill which Constable scribed with a pocket knife on to one of the beams at Brantham.
Constable’s neighbour in the village was Mr John Dunthorne, the local glazier and odd job man, who was Constable’s earliest influence. He was an amateur artist who shared Constable’s passion for painting, despite their class differences, the two were to become unlikely companions.
Coming from a wealthy family who owned much of the land surrounding Flatford Mill gave Constable free access to the countryside where he and Dunthorne would go out to find suitable views to paint.
Constable’s passion for painting was further encouraged by two influential people, Sir George Beaumont, a member of the Royal Academy whose mother lived in nearby Dedham and Dr John Fisher, the Bishop of Salisbury who had, as part of his diocese, the small church in nearby Langham village. These influential supporters gave Constable the opportunity to be considered for entry into the Royal Academy. An artist was a relatively new occupation for a gentleman and the suggestion that Constable would like to go to the Royal Academy for training was not greeted with much enthusiasm from his father. However, Constable’s persistence prevailed and he was allowed to set off for London to join the Royal Academy in 1798/9.
Upon arrival, Constable set out what type of artist he wanted to be; he was a painter of landscapes – a subject which was not considered to be of any great value or worth at this time. To add to this burden Constable chose not just to paint any landscapes but landscapes that were meaningful to him, landscapes of his own places.
“Still I should paint my own places best; painting is with me but another word for feeling, and I associate “my careless boyhood” with all that lies on the banks of the Stour; those scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful; that is, I had often thought of pictures of them before ever I touched a pencil, and your picture [‘The White Horse’] is one of the strongest instance I can recollect of it.” Letter to Rev. John Fisher (23 October 1821), from John Constable’s Correspondence, part 6, pp. 76-78
These subjects were to be Constable’s passion however they were not to be a source of income and he was forced to paint portraits in order to make a living as an artist, like many artists at the time. His early years at the Royal Academy were against the backdrop of the rise to fame of his almost identical contemporary, Turner, who achieved great success very early in his career, achieving full academician status soon after his arrival. Constable was to only achieve the same academician status at the age of 50 years and only then did he get admitted by 1 single vote. His ambition to achieve recognition in Britain was to be the driving force of his artistic career.
Each year Constable had the opportunity to exhibit his most valued works at the annual Summer Exhibition. The first of his so called 6ft canal scenes depicted a white horse on the bough of a lighter, yards from the family mill. The subject of local working class lightermen, farm buildings and cattle was unique and revolutionary for the time and it would take the British public a number of years to fully appreciate them. This scene, painted in 1819, entitled the White Horse was to become the first of a series of canal scene paintings that are known as the constable 6fters.
So in Constable’s time the Summer Exhibition was at Somerset House in rooms which today form the Courtauld Gallery. With space at a premium (every inch of wall space was covered with paintings) Constable realised that he had an additional challenge. With so many artists painting portraits and, naturally in a portrait aspect, when Constable arrived with a 6ft landscape painting it was hard to place his works alongside the others as it would be disruptive to the symmetry of the display. As such his paintings would often be positioned by the hanging committee in the less desirable ante-room, a smaller room which led off of the great room where the most prized positions were. This would cause him great anxiety and was to influence him to paint a number of landscapes in an upright portrait format later in his career, e.g The Lock, The Cornfield.
Another influence on Constable’s art was his personal life and the beautiful Maria (pronounced Mariah) Elizabeth Bicknell.
Constable was known as the handsome miller and is known to have wandered around the area in a white coat which was ‘quite becoming of him.’ On one occasion Ann Taylor, who composed Twinkle Twinkle little star, went to visit him with her sisters. His mother is said to have asked them “Do you want to go up and see him one at a time, or en masse?”
But it was Maria who stole Constable’s heart. Although 12 years his junior, Maria would often stay with her grandfather, Dr Rudd and it was at the local church, just along the road where Constable lived that they first met. They had an on off relationship for a number of years, restrained due to her families disapproval as a struggling artist was not the upper class man they had hoped for their daughter. The Bicknall’s were lawyers to the admiralty and moved in circles with royalty. Despite the Constable’s relative wealth their standing in society was not quite up to the same level.
The Bicknell Family were tolerant of Constable’s interest in Maria to begin with however when it became clear, after a number of years that things were a little more serious, the immediate family and to a greater extent Dr Rudd, played a more decisive role in influencing the course of true love. It culminated in Dr Rudd threatening to cut Maria out of his will with an ultimatum that she was to cut off all ties with Constable. Despite clear mutual affection Maria, while staying with her half-sister Sarah Skey in Worcester, wrote to Constable to end all ties, telling him not to contact her, speak to her and that “We both must be realistic,” putting the cause of the break-up down to “cold hard cash, something that neither of us have.”
Constable received the letter while in bed with flu, broken-hearted, he took a carriage to Worcester where he requested an audience with Maria. His gamble paid off, supported no doubt by Sarah Skey’s fondness of him and Maria relented and they decided that no matter what, they would indeed get married with or without the family’s blessing.
Maria though, was in constant poor health. Constable’s subjects of Hampstead Heath and Brighten are largely due to the doctors at the time recommending Maria take country and sea air. Her poor health was not helped by giving birth to seven children. Eventually Maria succumbed to tuberculosis in 1828, just 12 years after they were married. Although short, Constable’s marriage to Maria was a happy one and it is during this period that some of Constable’s greatest works were produced, including The Hay Wain and The Cornfield.
A year after Maria’s death Constable finally achieved full academician status at the Royal Academy, an honour that grieved him as Maria was not there to share the success with him. Constable’s paintings after this take a noteable turn in direction with rainbows featuring and stormy skies becoming more prevalent. Constable’s dearest friend Rev John Fisher also passed away around this time adding to Constable’s gloom.
In 1821 Constable planned to exhibit a scene of Waterloo Bridge at the Royal Academy’s Annual Exhibition, a subject quite different from his typical chosen landscapes, upon showing this to Joseph Farington, an influential member of the Royal Academy, Constable was persuaded to continue with his canal scenes. Valuing Farington’s opinion highly Constable set off immediately to begin a new canal scene. With limited time Constable had to set to work with great haste in order to complete the picture which he exhibited under the title Landscape Noon, a picture that was later to be referred to as The Hay Wain. The Hay Wain was received positively at the Royal Academy but it was not until 1824 when a French dealer took the painting together with two others (View on the Stour near Dedham and Yarmouth Pier) to Paris to be exhibited at the Paris Salon – the French equivalent of the Royal Academy. With Britain having been at war with France over the preceding years the French were startled to see the style and subject of this most English painter. The stark contrast of Constable’s works against the classic French works was significant enough to receive the Gold Medal from Charles X. Constable had wowed France and received the highest accolade from them. This recognition however gave little comfort to Constable who still continued to doubt his abilities based on his persistent desire to achieve fame in his home country. Constable would not even travel to France to collect the medal.
Constable went on to lecture at the Royal Academy and died in 1837 at the age of 61 from heart failure.
Anthony Bailey, A Kingdom of His Own
Constable in Love, Martin Gayford
Constable Letters, Suffolk Record Society, edited by Beckett
Memoirs of John Constable, Robert Leslie
Thank you too to Mark Cable, National Trust Guide at Flatford, Suffolk.
It was far too dull and overcast in Flatford this weekend for me to take the shots I needed for my Final Major Project so instead I tagged along on one of the guided tours, learning about Constable and taking a few photos as I went.
Firstly these are a few photos of Flatford Mill, the visitor’s centre and Valley Farm. I took all of these photographs with a 50mm prime lens which gives roughly a view the width that you might see with your eye.
Like with my panoramas, I have converted the photographs to black and white to give them a timeless feel that reflects the timelessness of the scenery and I have boosted the contrast to give them a stronger, tougher, more industrial feel that matches the weather and the fact that these were once industrial buildings.
I also took a few photos of Mark, the National Trust tour guide and the party of Londoners that he was showing around. It was a blustery day, the wind had a nasty bite to it and at the beginning of the tour the party looked cold, fed up and really not very interested but despite this being the first tour of the season our guide’s passion had everyone hooked. We soon forgot about the cold and were gripped by the rebellious young Constable who shunned his father’s business in order to become a painter and also the love story of Constable and his wife Maria Elizabeth Bicknell which led to a dramatic transformation in painting style after Maria died.
Here I have left the photos in colour so that I can experiment with a new Lightroom plug-in by Athentech called Perfect Exposure that was recommended on the Photofocus blog. Although exposure can be tweaked in Lightroom, the blog claims that Perfect Exposure can do it better and in just one click. I’m pleased with the results and it is very straight forward to use although when you have a batch of photos you need to export them to Perfect Exposure before making that ‘one click’ so I’m not sure that the claim of ease and speed is quite as suggested!
Mark Cable Tour Guide for the National Trust at Flatford
Talking about Constable’s Flatford Mill painting
Talking about Constable’s Boat Building Painting and how the dry dock works
Talking about the Hay Wain in front of Willy Lott’s Cottage
Finally, because it is Easter and supposed to be the beginning of Spring I took a few photos of the season. Although not directly related to my Final Major Project, Constable would have sketched details like this before including them in a larger image.