What made Constable different from the majority of his contemporaries was his attitude towards the things that he saw. He was not, like so many other landscape artists, a conscious seeker of the picturesque. As an artist he was virtually self-taught and his periods of formal study amounted to little more than process of directive discipline. His real master was his own sensitive and perceptive eye (Peacock, 15). It was through a study of nature rather than by a study of academic principles that his artistic philosophy was evolved.
It was at East Bergholt on the Suffolk side of the river Stour on 11 June 1776 that artist John Constable was born. The house where John was born is now disappeared, but its prosperous Georgian solidity exists for us in a number of his paintings (Peacock, 15). Golding, Jonh’s father, was a miller and the owner of water mills at Flatford and Dedham, and two windmills at East Bergholt (Taylor, 10). The Constables were a large family, John was the fourth of six children. Though much is not recorded of John’s first school experince , he was sent to Lavenham at age seven (Shirley, 39). There like most of the pupils, ill-used, he finished it in Dedham grammar school under a Dr. Thomas Grimwood. John did not do well in his studies to justify seeking a career in the church like his father had wished (Taylor, 11). In fact, Constable’s only record of excellence at Dedham was in penmanship, and so he was quickly directed into the family business, becoming locally known as ?the handsome miller? (Shirly, 39).
For a year John worked in his father’s mills and so acquired first-hand knowledge of the miller ‘s trade. In the mills what John learned probably stood him in a better stead that all the formal instruction in art he would ever receive (Peacock, 16). In 1796 he went on an apprenticeship in London. John apprenticeship to John Thomas Smith, a draughtsman and engraver, known as ?Antiquity Smith?. Constable assisted by making sketches that might be used as subjects for his work. Golding Constable grew impatient and dismissed his son’s taste for painting as a young man’s whim, and with the need for help in the mills, Golding summons John back to Bergholt (Taylor, 17).
To John, this summons could not have been more deviating, but fate was kinder than he would have expected. On February 4, 1800, Constable was admitted to the Royal Academy as a student. Golding Constable would give the allowance to cover the expenses, but it would be three years before John would win his father’s consent to his becoming once and for all a painter and not a miller. Consent would be given in June of 1802, and in 1802 John exhibited for the first time at the Academy.
He had made his start, but it brought neither fame nor recognition (Peacock, 18). In 1806, David Pike Watts, Constable’s uncle, paid for him to make a sketching on a tour in the lakes. The tour would prove to evoke a sense of the sublime and provide him with the subjects to feed his imagination and extend his skills. Constable’s legacy of the two month lake tour compromises a number of broadly washed but muddy watercolors drawins, and a few paintings (Baskett, 8). For Constable, watercolor was chiefly used, as a kind of shorthand technique by which the effects of nature could be noted more swiftly and accurately than was sometimes possible in the more opaque medium of oil. Light, he found, could be captured well enough on a sheet of white paper. The translucent tones of watercolor laid in with broad and broken washes could admirably reproduce the varied patterning of sky and clouds, as well as the forms of trees and the play of sunlight over dewy grass. With Constable it is the sensation of the moment that counts, especially in the layer of watercolors. For John, light becomes the means by which reality may be heightened (Taylor, 20).
In the next few years John produced a rich output of oil sketches. Spending most of his time in East Bergholt, the first ten plates in this anthology were probably all made in the vicinity of his birthplace. Constable frequently painted from the windows of the house in which he stayed (Baskett, 20). In the beginning many considered nothing of John’s work and only committed that he focus on the ordinarily parts of life. In 1805 John was invited to paint an altarpiece for Brantham, and in 1807 required to copy family portraits. During his lifetime, extraordinarily only few works were acquired from John other than those bought by patrons who were already friends (Peacock, 12). Although some light was shined on John’s career, neither his mother nor his father would live to see him achieve the enjoyment of public success.
In 1809, John would seek the hand of a girl, Maria Bicknell, some eighteen years younger than he. Though the love between the two was strong the Bricknell’s strongly objected to any relationship between the two. This would cause painful dispare, that can be seen even in John’s paintings (Taylor, 14). The worst was yet to come, for in June John would lose the one person who had always supported and encourage his endeavors into the fields of art, Ann Constable, his mother, would pass away. Her faith in him had never lost the wholesome bite of common sense (Shirley, 93). Much of the rest was spent back home in Suffolk that year tending to his fathers declining health. With in days of Mrs. Constable’s death Mrs. Bricknell died as well. The illness and death of Mrs. Bricknell seemed to have made Maria’s father less cautious and he allowed meeting between
John and Maria, to occur again. And then the following May, Golding Constable too, passed away.
With the death of Golding , came a assured increased in the income and in combination with the a progress in John’s work, Maria decision to liberate from her families objections, led to the marriage or rather the eloping of John and Maria Constable. The end to the emotional conflict and the need to provide for a family seems to have generated a new charge for Constable (Taylor, 14). John and his new wife, Maria would seek a home in Hampstead.
Back in London, Constable gathered up his art to make another bid for success and recognition. He had now become the master of sketch, able to record skies and landscapes with a perfection of touch. This was something many artist envied and only few could hope to equal. But as Constable knew only too well, the public was not impressed by perfection measured in inches (Peacock, 26). To achieve the Public’s attention, Constable would have to compose on a monumental scale. Meanwhile children were being born. Through out the up coming years the Constable would be blessed not only with having many works exhibited, but they would start a family. Their first child, John Charles, would come in 1817, and six more were to follow: Maria Lousia in 1819, Charles Golding in 1821, Isabel in 1822, Emily in 1825, Alfred Abram in 1826 and Lionel Bricknell in 1828.
Despite financial struggles and setbacks, for the frist time there was a settled peace in John’s life. His work now gains a serene and limpid note (Shirley, 105). The flame of Constable’s candle had stood in a draught flickering. John had been a studio painter in his earlier days; but his exhibits in the later years are painted from nature in the open fields. Now standing before many of the large canvases John must have been haunted by the fear that the only public he could ever hope for would be his own circle of friends. Little did Constable know but the next large picture sent to the Academy would be destined to extend his reputation far beyond his imagination (Peacock, 28).
The exhibition of the ?Hay Wain? was a pivotal event in Constable’s career. It marked the beginning of the period in his life of relative success and prosperity. This piece inaugurated a new movement in European art (Peacock, 28). The critic Nodier, who on his return from Paris published an enthusiastic appreciation of the painter, saw the picture in England. G`ericaut, a guest of the Academy, he too, noticed Constable’s brilliant effects among his friends in Pairs, including Delacroix (Taylor, 21)
Because of this recongition in Paris, Constable has sometimes been considered as the man who inspired the Barbizon painters and the French Impressionists (Baskett, 11).
John would go on to exhibit many more times, but in 1824 Maria would become ill. Constable moved the family to Brighton in hopes that the sea would act as a tonic for Maria. She suffered from sleeplessness and the profuse night sweats all characteristics of pulmonary tuberculosis (Baskett, 11). Maria though, would never return to good health. In 1827 she bore their seventh child, and on November 28, 1828, she died. Maria’s death was a paralyzing blow. A profound change overcame Constable after his wife’s death. The joy went out of his life and with it faded the spontaneous urge to make sketches from nature. John would never be the same. Loneliness and desperation clouded the last years of Constable’s life. Many of his friends were dead, and attacks of illness only made his depression aggravated. And on March 31, 1837 suddenly from violent indigestion, John Constable died at age sixty (Baskett, 13).
In the end Constable found a link of association between natural landscape, and the artist’s personal feelings. He sought to express his love of the open countryside. Through an apparently spontaneous use of color and rapid brushstrokes he was able to capture the fleeting mood of a scene (Phaidon, 105). Behind these speckled bits of paint, however, lies a carefully composed structure. John did not even seems to tell a story line with his pieces, yet only tried to stir up the familiar. Constable is sometimes referred to as a pantheist. Truth to nature is all needed in Constable country, and Constable, without worrying over semantic problems as to just what is truth is, captured it by painting what he saw in terms of what he felt.