EDITED BY - -
T. LEMAN HARE
" Masterpieces in Colour " Series
LEONARDO DA VINCL
VIGEE LE BRUN.
john s. sargent.
S. L. Ben SUSAN.
S. L. Bensi'sam.
C. Lewis Hind.
C Lewis Hind.
Alys Evre Macklik.
Henkv B. BiNNs.
A. Lvs Bai.dry.
Paul G. Konodv.
Mary E. Coleridge.
S. L. Bensusan.
A. Lvs Baldry.
Georc.e Ha v.
S. L. Hensusan.
Percy M. Turner.
hi. W. Brockwelu
S. L. Bensusan.
T. Martin Wood.
S. L. Bknsusan.
A. Lys Baldrv.
C. Haldane MacFalu
Paul G. Konodv.
C. Haldane MacFall.
W. H. J. & J. C. Wbalb,
C. Lewis Hind.
James L. Caw.
T. Martin Wood.
S. L. Bensusan.
H. E. A, FuRST.
Percy M. Turner.
C. Lewis Hind.
C. Lewis Hind.
S. L. Bknsusan.
W. LoFTus Hare.
A. J. FiNBERG.
Others in Prtparation.
PLATE I.— THE VALLEY FARM. National Gallery.
In "The Valley Farm," exhibited at the Royal Academy in
1835, tv/o years before his death, Constable returned to the scenes
of his boyhood, to Willy Lott's house on the banks of the Stour.
His hand and eye have lost something of their grip and freshness,
but his purpose is as firm as ever. *' I have preserved God
Almighty's day light," he wrote, " which is enjoyed by all mankind,
excepting only the lovers of old, dirty canvas, perished pictures at
a thousand guineas each, cart grease, tar, and snuff of candle."
The old Adam, you perceive, was still strong in him.
BY C. LEWIS HIND ® ® ®
ILLUSTRATED WITH EIGHT
REPRODUCTIONS IN COLOUR
LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK
NEW YORK: FllEDERICK A. STOKES CO.
I. The Year 1824 11
II. The Brown Tree 21
III. His Life 32
IV. His Sketches 51
V. His Pictures 63
VI. His Personality and Opinions . . '77
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
I. The Valley Farm .... Frontispiece
II. The Hay Wain 14
III. The Corn Field 24
IV. Flatford Mill 34
V. Dedham Mill 40
(Victoria and Albert Museum)
VI. A Country Lane 50
VII. Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's
(Victoria and Albert Museum)
VIII. Salisbury 70
THE YEAR 1824
JOHN CONSTABLE was forty-eight years
of age in 1824, a memorable year in the
history of landscape painting. A date
to be remembered is 1824, for in that year
Constable's "Hay Wain" was hung in the
French Salon. That picture, which is now in
the National Gallery, marked an epoch in
Reams have been written about the influence
of "The Hay Wain" upon French art, by
critics who are all for Constable, by critics
who are complimentary but temperate; and by
critics who are lukewarm and almost resentful
of the place claimed for Constable as pro-
tagonist of nineteenth century landscape art.
A guerilla critical warfare has also raged
around the influence of Turner. Constable and
Turner! Most modern landscape painters have,
at one time or another, learnt from these two
great pioneers. Turner is more potent to-day,
but his influence took longer to assert itself.
It was not until 1870 that Monet visited
London to be dazzled by the range and
splendour of Turner at the National Gallery.
Forty-six years had passed since "The Hay
Wain" was exhibited at the Salon. In that
half-century the Barbizon School, those great
men of 1830, Corot, Rousseau, Millet, Daubigny,
Troyon, Diaz, and the rest had come to fruition.
Constable has been claimed as their parent.
Thor^, the French critic, who wrote under the
name of G. W. BUrger, affirms that Constable
was the point de depart of the Barbizon School ;
but Albert Wolff, another eminent French critic,
PLATE II.— THE HAY WAIN. National GaUery.
Painted in 1821, exhibited in the French Salon in 1824, "The
Hay Wain," with two other smaller works, which had been
purchased from Constable by a French connoisseur, aroused extra-
ordinary interest in Paris, and had a potent influence on French
landscape art. So impressed was Delacroix with the naturalness,
the freshness, and the brightness of Constable's pictures at the
1824 Salon, that he completely repainted his "Massacre of Scio"
in the four days that intervened before the opening of the exhibition.
was not of that opinion. Thore, writing in 1863,
also said that although Constable had stimulated
in France a school of painting unrivalled in
the modern world, he had had no influence
in his own country, a far too sweeping state-
The truth about Constable's influence on
French art would seem to be midway between
the opinions of Thore and Wolff. That Con-
stable's exhibits at the Salon of 1824, which
included two smaller landscapes besides "The
Hay Wain," did arouse extraordinary interest,
and did have a potent influence on French
landscape art, there is no shadow of doubt.
So impressed was Delacroix with the natural-
ness, the freshness, and the brightness of
Constable's pictures at the 1824 Salon, that,
after studying them, he completely repainted
his "Massacre of Scio" in the four days that
intervened before the opening of the exhibition ;
and the following year Delacroix visited London
eager to see more of Constable's work. There
is also the testimony of William Brockedon,
who, on his return from the Salon, wrote thus
to the painter of "The Hay Wain." The text
of the letter is printed in C. R. Leslie's
Memoirs of the Life of Constable^ a mine of
information in which all writers on John Con-
Stable, whom de Goncourt called "/e grand, le
grandissime maitre," must delve.
" My dear Constable," wrote William
Brockedon, "You will find in the enclosed
some remarks upon your pictures at Paris. I
returned last night and brought this with me.
The French have been forcibly struck by them,
and they have created a division in the school
of the landscape painters of France. You are
accused of carelessness by those who ac-
knowledge the truth of your effect; and the
freshness of your pictures has taught them
that though your means may not be essential,
your end must be to produce an imitation of
Nature, and the next Exhibition in Paris will
teem with your imitators, or the school of
Nature versus the school of Birmingham. I
saw one man draw another to your pictures
with this expression — * Look at these land-
scapes by an Englishman; the ground appears
to be covered with dew.'"
Note these passages: They have created a
division in the school of the landscape painters of
France — Paris will teem with your imitators — The
ground appears to be covered with dew.
Constable received the gratifying news very
quietly. Writing to Fisher from Charlotte Street,
Fitzroy Square, on 17th December 1824, he
remarked — "My Paris affairs go on very well.
Though the Director, the Count Forbin, gave
my pictures very respectable situations in the
Louvre in the first instance, yet on being
exhibited a few weeks, they advanced in reputa-
tion, and were removed from their original
situations to a post of honour, two prime
places in the principal room. I am much in-
debted to the artists for their alarum in my
favour; but I must do justice to the Count,
who is no artist I believe, and thought that as
the colours are rough they should be seen at a
distance. They found the mistake, and now
acknowledge the richness of texture, and
attention to the surface of things. They are
struck with their vivacity and freshness, things
unknown to their own pictures. The truth is,
they study (and they are very laborious students)
pictures only, and as Northcote says, *They
know as little of Nature as a hackney-coach
horse does of a pasture* . . . However, it is
certain they have made a stir, and set the
students in landscape to thinking."
Note the passages : They are struck with their
vivacity and freshness — The truth is they study
I have quoted these letters at length, because
they are first-hand authorities, and because they
state, with simple directness, the effect of
Constable's pictures at the Salon of 1824. The
two smaller works that accompanied " The Hay
Wain" we may disregard for the moment, and
ask what is there in "The Hay Wain" that it
should have so startled the French painting
world, and that it should have marked an epoch
in the history of landscape art. Stand before
"The Hay Wain" in the National Gallery and
ask yourself that question. If you are honest,
you will admit, perhaps only to yourself, that
"The Hay Wain" looks a little old-fashioned.
And you will also admit that the full-sized
sketch for "The Hay Wain," which you have
surely noticed hanging in the Constable room
at the Victoria and Albert Museum, pleases you
better on account of its greater brilliance, vigour,
and impulse. The finished picture, though very
powerful, seems a little stolid, a little laboured,
as if the painter had left nothing to "happy
accident" but had worked with John Bull con-
scientiousness over every inch of the canvas.
You have in the last decade or two seen so
many landscapes — pearly, atmospheric, spacious,
vivid and vibrating with sunshine, that this
"Hay Wain" by honest John, this English
pastoral with the great sky, the shimmering
water, and the leaves carefully accented with
colour to represent the flickers of light, does not
astonish you. Perhaps you pass it by without
a pause, without even a cursory examination.
But remember this is 1909,1 and " The Hay
Wain" made its sensatioiTTn 1824. In those
eighty-five years landscape painting has pro-
gressed at a faster rate than in all the preceding
centuries. In 1824 "The Hay Wain" was a
fresh vision, very new and arresting. Why?
Simply because Constable returned to Nature
and painted Nature. Again and again has this
happened in the history of art from the time of
Giotto onwards. The little men falter on, copy-
ing one another, "studying pictures only," in
Constable's phrase; the public accepts their
wooden performances as true art; then the
great man arises, often a very simple, straight-
thinking, modest man like this John Constable,
and the great man does nothing more miraculous
than just to use his own eyes ; he refuses to be
dictated to by others as to what he should see
and do, and lo ! the world looks at what he has
done, and either rejects him altogether (for a
time), or says, " Here is a genius. Let us make
much of him."
One thing is certain. It was not by taking
thought, by planning or scheming, that John
Constable made that sensation at the Salon of
1824. It was born in him to be what he
became — a painter of Nature. How easy and
simple it seems. Everybody paints Nature to-
day ; but in the early years of last century one
had to be a great original to break away from
tradition and from academic formulae, and to
paint — just Nature.
The awakening came to John Constable in
1802, when he was twenty-six years of age. In
a letter to his friend Dunthorne, Constable
wrote from London :
" For the last two years I have been running
after pictures and seeking the truth at second
hand ... I shall return to Bergholt, where I
shall endeavour to get a pure and unaffected
manner of representing the scenes that may
employ me. There is little or nothing in the
Exhibitions worth looking up to. There is room
for a natural painter."
A natural painter he became — the painter of
England, of simple rural scenes. At forty-seven
years of age he lamented that he had never
visited Italy, but the mood passed as quickly as
it came, and he cries : *' No, but I was born to
paint a happier land, my own dear old England."
And from his own dear old England he banished
the brown tree. But the droll story of the
Brown Tree deserves a new chapter.
THE BROWN TREE
*^ CONSTANT communion with pictures,
the tints of which are subdued by
time, no doubt tends to unfit the eye
for the enjoyment of freshness."
So wrote the wise Leslie in a chapter narrating
certain passages of art talk between Constable
and Sir George Beaumont, when the painter
was visiting the amiable baronet at Cole-Orton.
The modern world is a Httle amused by Sir
George Beaumont — collector, connoisseur, and
painter — who, in his own ripe person, precisely
and accurately exemplified Constable's criticism
of certain French artists. "They study (and
they are very laborious students) pictures only."
Sir George loved art, as he understood the term,
and it was not his fault that he could not see
eye to eye with the young vision of Constable.
Quite content and happy was Sir George; he
did not wish to change. Loved art? He had
a passion for art. Did he not always carry with
him upon his journeys Claude's picture of
"Hagar?" In 1826 he presented " Hagar,"
which is now catalogued under the title of
" Landscape with Figures," to the nation ; but he
felt so disconsolate without his adored picture
that he begged to have it returned to him for
his life-time. That was done, and on Sir
George's death in 1828 his widow restored
"Hagar" to the National Gallery. Study
" Hagar," and you have the measure of the art
predilections of Sir George Beaumont, collector,
connoisseur, painter, patron, and ' friend of John
Constable, and author of the famous question,
" Do you find it very difficult to determine where
to place your brown tree?"
Constable's answer is recorded. *' Not in the
least, for I never put such a thing into a picture."
Sir George did. Observing the brown tree
sprawling in the formal and academic pictures
he prized and copied, he reproduced it laboriously
in his own works. Apparently it never occurred
to him that those brown trees may once have
"Sir George," says LesHe, "seemed to consider
the autumnal tints necessary, at least to some
part of a landscape." And Leslie is the authority
for two oft-told stories about Caspar Poussin
and about the Cremona fiddle.
PLATE III.— THE CORNFIELD, OR COUNTRY LANE.
Painted in 1826, and presented to the National Gallery in 1837 by
an association of gentlemen, who purchased it of the painter's
executors. A typical work. John Constable was pleased with
his Cornfield. Writing of it to Archdeacon Fisher, he said—" It is
not neglected in any part ; the trees are more than usually studied,
well defined as well as the stems; they are shaken by a pleasant
and healthful breeze at noon."
Sir George having placed a small landscape
by Caspar Poussin on his easel, close to a
picture he was painting, said, "Now, if I can
match these tints I am sure to be right."
"But suppose," replied Constable, "Caspar
could rise from his grave, do you think he would
know his own picture in its present state? or if
he did, should we not find it difficult to persuade
him that somebody had not smeared tar or
cart grease over its surface, and then wiped it
The fiddle story can be told in fewer words.
Sir Ceorge having recommended the colour of
an old Cremona fiddle for the prevailing tone of
everything in Nature, Constable answered by
laying an old fiddle on the green lawn before
Sir George Beaumont was one of the last of
the servile disciples of Claude Lorraine and the
Poussins, who conjured their followers into
believing that a landscape must be composed in
the grand or "classical" manner, and must
conform to certain academic rules. Claude's
drawings, preserved in the British Museum,
proclaim that he could be as frank, delightful,
and impulsive as Constable in his sketches ; but
when Claude constructed a landscape of ruined
temples and fatuous biblical or legendary figures,
the inspiration of his drawing usually evaporated.
Claude's genius remained, and there are pictures
by him, notably " The Enchanted Castle," that in
their particular manner have never been sur-
passed ; but alas ! it was not the genius that
Sir George Beaumont imitated, but Claude's
mannerisms and limitations.
The stay-at-home Dutchmen who flooded the
seventeenth century with their simple, homely,
and often beautiful landscapes had no attraction
for grandiose Sir George and his kin. The genius
of Watteau which flashed into the eighteenth
century, the commanding performances of
Richard Wilson and Gainsborough in landscape,
had no influence upon the practitioners of the
grand manner. And in truth those pioneers
suffered for their temerity. Wilson, who never
quite cast off* the classical mantle, accepted
with gratitude, at the height of his fame, the
post of librarian to the Royal Academy. Gains-
borough would have starved had he been
obliged to depend upon landscape painting for
a living, and Constable would have been in
financial straits had he been obliged to depend
for the support of his family entirely upon the
sale of his pictures.
Wilson died in 1782, Gainsborough in 1788,
and J. R. Cozens, whom Constable described as
"the greatest genius who ever touched land- I
scape," in 1799 ; but the careers of these men .
cannot be said to have influenced their landscape |
contemporaries. While Wilson, Gainsborough,
and Cozens were still alive, certain boys were
growing up in England, who were destined to
make the nineteenth century splendid with their
landscape performances. What a galaxy of
names ! Old Crome and James Ward were
born in 1769 ; Turner and Girtin in 1775 ;
Constable in 1776. Cotman saw the light in
1782, the year of Wilson's death ; David Cox
in 1783 ; Peter de Wint in 1784, and the short
and brilliant life of Bonington began in 1801.
But landscape painting was still, and was to
remain for long, the Cinderella of the arts. In
1829 Cotman wrote a letter beginning, "My
eldest son is following the same miserable
Constable's British contemporaries being men
of genius of various degrees, men of individual
vision, it is quite natural that his influence upon
them should have been almost negligible.
Turner, Old Crome, and Bonington owed nothing
to Constable ; but in France it was different. In
the early years of the nineteenth century when
Englishmen were producing magnificent work
which was to bring them such great posthumous
fame and such small rewards during their life-
time, landscape painting in France was still
slumbering in classical swathing-bands. As if
frightened out of originality by the horrors of
the French Revolution of 1789, the landscape
painters of France for thirty years and more
remained steeped in the apathy of classicism.
David (1748-1825) dominated the French art
world, and no mere landscape painter was able to
dispel the heavy tradition that David imposed in
historical painting. True there were protestors,
original men (there always are), but they were
powerless to stem the turgid stream. There
was Paul Huet and there was Georges Michel,
happy no doubt in their work, but unfortunate
in living before their time. Michel, neglected,
misunderstood, was excluded from the Salon
exhibitions after 1814, on account of his re-
volutionary tendencies. We note signs of
the brown tree obsession in Michel's spacious
and simple landscapes, but he painted the
environs of Paris, and did not give a thought to
theatrical renderings of Plutarch, Theocritus,
Ovid, or Virgil.
France was ripe for Constable at that
memorable Salon of 1824, simple, straight-seeing
Constable, who painted his Suffolk parish, not
the tumbling ruins of Italy, and who showed that
" the sun shines, that the wind blows, that water
wets, and that air and light are everywhere."
But Constable's influence on the French painters,
although great, must not be overstated. Change
was in the air. Herald signs had not been
lacking of the rebirth of French landscape
painting. The French critics of the Salons had
already begun to complain of the stereotyped
classical ruins and brown-tree landscapes ; they
announced that they were weary of ** malarious
lakes, desolate wastes, and terrible cliffs."
Joyfully they welcomed in the Salon of 1822 the
brilliant water-colours of Bonington, Copley
Fielding, and other Englishmen, and then came
i!824 with Constable showing that the bright,
fresh colours were also possible in oil, and that
a fine picture could be made out of an "un-
picturesque locality," a lock, a cottage, a hay-
wain, a cornfield, quite as well as from a
"Plague among the Philistines at Ashdod," or
an '* Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba."
As has been already explained. Constable
did not dream of the success and fame that was
in store for him in Paris. "The Hay Wain"
was painted in 1821 ; he was then forty-five, and
as will be seen from the following letter written
in 1822, he had not found art remunerative.
"I have some nibbles at my large picture of
* The Hay Wain ' in the British Gallery. I have
an offer of seventy pounds without the frame to
form part of an exhibition in Paris. I hardly
know what to do. It might promote my fame
and procure me commissions, but it is the
property of my family; though I want money
dreadfully; and, on this subject, I must beg a
great favour of you, indeed, I can do it of no
other person. The loan of twenty pounds or
thirty pounds would be of the greatest use to
me at this time, as painting these large pictures
has much impoverished me."
In 1824 the nibble became a bite. " The Hay
Wain " with the two other pictures was sold *' to
a Frenchman " for two hundred and fifty pounds.
The Frenchman's object was to make a show of
them in Paris. He did so to some purpose.
And it is odd to note that the name of this
farseeing Frenchman has never been disclosed.
Above "The Hay Wain" in the National
Gallery hangs James Ward's fine picture called
"View of Harlech Castle and surrounding land-
scape." That is the official title, but I suggest
that the title should be, " The End of the Brown
Tree." You will observe that the brown tree has
been cut down and is being hurried away in a
cart drawn by four grey horses. I do not accuse
the Director of the National Gallery of joking ;
but I cannot think it was altogether without
intention that, in the rehanging of the room,
James Ward's allegory of the end of the Brown
Tree should have been hung above Constable's
" Hay Wain," the pioneer picture of the new
CONSTABLE had a happy, uneventful life
and a quiet death. A happy life ? Yes.
For the loss of friends and the depression
of spirits that clouded his closing years are
events that happen to not a few who have lived
the major portion of their lives pleasantly and
successfully. Practical, level-headed, industrious,
there is no hint of the aberrations or eccentrici-
ties of genius in the orderly and fruitful sixty-one
years of his existence, which began in 1776, and
ended in 1837.
Probably the severest blow in his life was the
death of his wife in 1828, leaving him with seven
children. It came, almost without warning, the
year after the family had settled so contentedly in
Well Walk, Hampstead.
"This house," he wrote, "is to my wife's
heart's content ; it is situated on an eminence at
the back of the spot in which you saw us, and
our little drawing-room commands a view unsur-
PLATE IV.— FLATFORD MILL ON THE RIVER STOUR.
Painted in 1817. Constable was then forty-one, a somewhat
mature age for a man to produce what may fairly be called his
first important work. It is a picture of England — ripe, lush, care-
fully composed, carefully executed, but fresh as are the meadows
on the banks of the Stour; and the sky, across which the large
clouds are drifting, is sunny.
passed in Europe, from Westminster Abbey to
Gravesend. The dome of St Paul's in the air
seems to realise Michael Angelo's words on
seeing the Pantheon ; * I will build such a thing
in the sky.'" After his wife's death Constable
returned to his former residence in Charlotte
Street, Fitzroy Square; but he retained Well
Walk, and often sojourned there.
Probably the greatest surprise, and certainly
one of the most comforting episodes of his life,
was the receipt of a legacy of twenty thousand
pounds on the death of his wife's father, which
elicited the remark that now he could "stand
before a six-foot canvas with a mind at ease,
Constable developed slowly as a painter, but
having once found himself he strode steadily
onward, knowing exactly what he meant to do,
turning neither to the right nor to the left,
indifferent to tradition, schools, and influences.
Consequently the earlier years of his life, when he
was breaking away from tradition and beginning
to see things with his own eyes are the more
interesting. He was born at East Bergholt in
Suffolk on nth June 1776, the second son of
Golding Constable, owner of water and wind
mills. At the Dedham Grammar School he was
renowned for his penmanship, and before he left
school, at seventeen years of age, he had already
shown a strong inclination towards painting. In
this he was encouraged by his friend John
Dunthorne, plumber and glazier, a man of parts,
who devoted his leisure time to landscape
Fate was complaisant to Constable. Born in
an opulent and wooded quarter of Suffolk, on a
spot overlooking the fertile valley of the Stour,
with a friend close at hand who loved Nature and
painted her for pleasure not for profit, can we
wonder that, later in life, Constable wrote
enthusiastically and gratefully of ^'the scenes of
my boyhood which made me a painter." A
painter he was from the beginning, for his father's
proposal that he should take Orders was never
really seriously entertained, and the year that he
spent as a miller was surely of more service to
him as a student of Nature than if he had spent
the period as a student in an art school. As a
miller, the " handsome miller " he was called, he
learnt at first hand the ways of winds, clouds,
and storms; in an art school he would have
learned how his predecessors had decided that
antique statues should be drawn and "shaded."
Yes ; everything conspired to make John Con-
stable "a natural painter." The art schools
would serve him later, but that year as a miller
watching the skies, noting the winds, observing
the growth of crops, and the demeanour of trees,
was the foundation of his originality. He was
but sixteen — that impressionable period when
everything is new, and the eyes of body and soul
absorb and retain. In that fresh and impulsive
sketch called "Spring," now in the Victoria
and Albert Museum, he painted, later in life, one
of the mills in which he worked, upon the timbers
of which he had carved the words "John Con-
stable, 1792." In the second edition of his " Life,"
published in 1845, Leslie says that the name and
date, neatly carved with a penknife, "still
remain." Leslie also prints Constable's descrip-
tion of this " Spring " sketch which was engraved
by David Lucas.
"It may perhaps give some idea of one of
those bright silvery days in the spring, when at
noon large garish clouds surcharged with hail or
sleet sweep with their broad shadows the fields,
woods, and hills ; and by their depths enhance
the value of the vivid greens and yellows so
peculiar to the season. The natural history^ if
the expression may be used, of the skies, which
are so particularly marked in the hail squalls at
this time of the year, is this. . . ." Then follows
a lengthy and intimate study of the natural history
of the skies, showing what stores of knowledge
he had amassed during the year he worked as a
miller. Is it exaggeration to describe that year
as the most important of his life. It gave him
the independent outlook, the rough intimacy with
fields and hedgerows under the influences of
light and weather, that new-old knowledge which
so astonished the French artists at the Salon of
1824. Constable began with the skies of Nature,
he went on to study the skies of Claude,
Ruysdael, and other masters ; but he returned to
the skies and pastures of Nature, never to leave
Here is a further episode of Constable's youth
before he visited London, another example of
the luck, there is no other word for it, that
attended his art beginnings. The Dowager
Lady Beaumont lived at Dedham, where Golding
Constable owned a water-mill, and as the families
were friendly, Constable early made the acquaint-
ance of her son. Sir George Beaumont, who was
twenty-three years his senior. He had already
approved of some copies made by the youth in pen
and ink after Dorigny's engravings of the cartoons
of Raphael, and he had showed him the *' Hagar "
by Claude, already mentioned, which Sir George
always carried about with him when he travelled.
What was still more important, he displayed
before his protege thirty water-colours by Girtin.
PLATE v.— DEDHAM MILL. Victoria and Albert Museum.
Painted in 1820, three years after " Flatford Mill." Constable's
father was the owner of the watermills at Flatford and Dedham.
Many years before the date of this picture, Constable, writing of
a landscape of Dedham by an acquaintance, said — " It is very well
painted, and there is plenty of light without any light at all."
In " Dedham Mill," he progresses in his purpose to infuse true
light into Ills pictures.
The Claude and the array of Girtins produced an
enormous impression upon young Constable. In
Claude he made acquaintance with an old
master, who had been the first to paint pure land-
scape in the approved grand or classical manner ;
in Girtin was revealed to him the harbinger of a
new epoch in landscape painting, the young
Girtin, friend and fellow-student of Turner, who
died in 1802 at the age of twenty-seven, and of
whom Turner said — "Had Girtin lived, I should
In 1795 Constable made a tentative visit to
London, ''for the purpose of ascertaining what
might be his chance of success as a painter." He
carried with him a letter to Joseph Farrington,
pupil of Richard Wilson, who predicted that *' his
style of landscape would one day form a distinct
feature in the art." Constable also made the
acquaintance of John Thomas Smith, the
engraver, known as '' Antiquity Smith," who gave
him the following excellent advice, which shows
that the revolt against the academic landscape
had already begun in England :
"Do not," said "Antiquity Smith," "set about
inventing figures for a landscape taken from
Nature; for you cannot remain an hour in any
spot, however solitary, without the appearance
of some living thing that will in all probability
accord better with the scene and time of day
than will any invention of your ov/n."
That visit to London "for the purpose of
ascertaining what might be his chance of success
as a painter," would seem to have been encourag-
ing neither to himself nor to his parents. No
immediate answer was forthcoming, and while
the decision was in abeyance his time was
divided between London and Bergholt It is on
record that he worked hard : that he studied
Leonardo's Treatise on Painting; that he read
Ressner's Essay on Landscape ; and that he
painted two pictures — ''A Chymist" and "An
Alchymist" — of very little merit. Gradually it
seems to have been recognised that he was to
become not a painter, but a clerk in his father's
counting-house. In 1797, at the age of twenty-
one, young Constable wrote to "Antiquity
Smith " :
" I must now take your advice and attend to
my father's business . . . now I see plainly it will
be my lot to walk through life in a path contrary
to that in which my inclination would lead me."
Poor John ! Not even a peep of the skies from the
windmill, merely a stool in the counting-house.
This threat of the counting-house stool seems
to have been only a temporary menace. His
biographer dwells very briefly on those dark
disillusioned days. Suddenly the clouds lift, and
in 1799 we find him admitted a student of the
Royal Academy Schools. His biographer breaks
the news dramatically, with the statement — "in
the year 1799 he had resumed the pencil, not
again to lay it aside." No record is given of the
period he presumably passed in his father's
counting-house. We know only that at twenty-
three years of age he attained his heart's desire.
The following passage from a letter written to
Dunthorne, on 4th February 1799, inaugurates
Constable's career as a painter:
"I am now comfortably settled in Cecil Street,
Strand, Number twenty-three. I shall begin
painting as soon as I have the loan of a sweet
little picture by Jacob Ruysdael to copy." No
doubt he learned much from copying Ruysdael
and other masters, but Nature was his real tutor.
Later in the year he writes from Ipswich :
" It is a most delightful country for a painter.
I fancy I see Gainsborough in every hedge and
hollow tree." And in 1802 he makes that memor-
able communication by letter to Dunthorne
after a visit to Sir George Beaun;iont's pictures,
to which reference has already been made.
" For the last two years I have been running
after pictures, and seeking the truth at second
hand ... I shall return to Bergholt, v/here I
shall endeavour to get a pure and unaffected
manner of representing the scenes that may
employ me . . . There is room for a natural
painter. The great vice of the day is bravura^
an attempt to do something beyond the truth."
Constable had now thirty-five years of life
before him, through which he worked un-
wearingly, joyfully, to become a natural painter.
Henceforth he was the interpreter of English
"cultivated scenery" — pastures and the skies,
trees and cottages, the farm-hand, the farm-
waggon, the farm-horse, the fugitive rain and the
wind that passes. Mountains, the sea, the piled
up majestic picturesqueness of Nature did not
attract him. In brain, heart, and vision he was
essential pastoral England, and never did he
better express his innermost feeling than when
he wrote :
" I love every stile and stump and lane in the
village ; as long as I am able to hold a brush, I
shall never cease to paint them."
The life of a painter is not usually exciting,
.and Constable's life was no exception Here
are a few dates. In 1802, at the age of twenty-
six, he exhibited his first picture, under the
unambitious title "A Landscape," at the Royal
Academy ; in 1816, at forty, he married ; in 1819,
at forty-three, he was elected A.R.A.; in 1824, his
" Hay Wain " was exhibited at the Salon ; in 1828
his wife died; in 1829, at fifty-three, he was elected
R.A., and in 1837 he died. The end was sudden.
He had been at work during the day on his last
picture of "Arundel Mill and Castle," and
although his friends noticed that he was not
looking well, he was able to go out that evening
on an errand connected with the Artists*
Benevolent Fund. He retired to bed about
nine o'clock, read as was his custom, and when
the servant removed the candle by which he had
been reading, he was asleep. Later he awoke in
great pain, and died within an hour. The post-
mortem revealed no indications of disease, and
the extreme pain, says Leslie, from which
Constable suffered and died could only be
traced to indigestion. The vault in the south-
east corner of the churchyard at Hampstead
where his wife had been buried, and from the
shock of whose death he never quite recovered,
was opened, and he was laid by her side.
His art was sane and healthy, but his letters
show that during the latter part of his life he
suffered from depression and morbid fancies.
"All my indispositions," he wrote to Fisher,
" have their source in my mind. It is when I am
restless and unhappy that I become susceptible
of cold, damp, heats, and such nonsense." And,
to sum up, Leslie recalls a passage written by
Constable ten years before his death, in which,
after speaking of having removed his family to
Hampstead, he says : " I could gladly exclaim,
here let me take my everlasting rest."
But his life was an extremely happy one on
the whole; the legacies he received, placed him
in comfortable circumstances, and if, outside his
own fraternity, his art was but little encouraged,
that was the lot of all landscape painters. It is
said that he was nearly forty before he sold a
landscape beyond the circle of his relatives and
personal friends. This was probably the
"Ploughing Scene in Suffolk," bought from the
Royal Academy Exhibition of 1814 by Mr AUnutt.
But to set against this tardy recognition, there
was the splendour of the acknowledgments that
came later — his gold medal at the 1824 Salon, and
the gold medal at Lille in 1825 for his "White
Horse." The priced catalogue of the sale of his
pictures and sketches after his death shows how
enormously the appreciation of Constable has
increased. The two magnificent studies for "The
Hay Wain" and "The Leaping Horse" now at
the Victoria and Albert Museum, were sold in one
lot for fourteen pounds ten shillings ; " Salisbury
Cathedral from the Bishop's Garden," went
for sixty-four pounds one shilling, and "The
Opening of Waterloo Bridge' for sixty-three
Constable fell under the ban of Ruskin —
unjustly, " I have never seen any work of his in
which there were signs of his being able to
draw " is the opening of an oft-quoted passage ;
but when Modern Painters was being written, as
Mr Sturge Henderson points out, the magnificent
collection of Constable's tree studies and
sketches, now at South Kensington, were still in
private hands. Ruskin could never have taunted
Constable with not being able to draw had he
examined those studies. Although not a great
draughtsman he was certainly a conscientious,
competent, and life-long student of drawing.
Constable has now his assured high place in
British art. So valuable have his paintings
become, that he has long been a prey to the
forger and the clever copyist. Mr C. J. Holmes,
in his exhaustive and discriminating work on
Constable, devotes four pages to an examination
of the methods of the forgers. In another
appendix he prints a chronological list of
Constable's chief pictures and sketches, from
i795j the year of his earliest dated work, "A
Study after Claude," to the "Arundel Mill and
Castle," exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837.
At the beginning of the record of each year's
work there is a line giving the " Places Visited "
by Constable during the year. These bare
records are like so many windows opening to the
country places which Constable loved, where he
spent joyous, enthusiastic days; for Constable
was never so happy as when he stood with
brushes and palette face to face with Nature.
Turner was a world traveller — the world of
Europe. Constable was a home traveller — the
homely stiles, stumps, and lanes of the village.
What a vista the following mere record of the
Places Visited in 1823 gives : London, Southgate,
Suffolk, Salisbury, Gillingham, Sherbourne,
Fonthill, Cole-Orton. Can you not see him
drawing from each place fresh and dewy inspira-
tion? Not "truth at second-hand": truth direct
from the source. And does not the heart respond
to Constable's generous enthusiasm for his great
contemporary. Here is his testimony to Turner's
contributions to the Royal Academy Exhibition
of 1828 :
"Turner has some golden visions, glorious
and beautiful. They are only visions, but still,
they are art, and one could live and die with such
PLATE VI.— A COUNTRY LANE. National Gallery.
This sketch probably served as the motive for the picture of
♦' The Cornfield." The sobriety of the work places it in a category
between the careful construction of the Exhibition pictures and
the impetuosity of most of the sketches.
CONSTABLE exhibited one hundred and
four works at the Royal Academy. In
addition to these and other paintings, he
produced many brilliant sketches and a number
of drawings. Like Turner, his achievements may
be exhaustively studied in public Exhibitions in
London, and as with Turner, the difficulty is
where to begin. At the National Gallery there is
a wall composed, with one exception, entirely of
his works ; the Victoria and Albert Museum con-
tains a room, or rather a hall of his pictures,
sketches, and studies, and he is also represented
at the Tate and Diploma Galleries. Some of the
examples were bequeathed to the nation by his
last surviving daughter. Miss Isabel Constable,
in 1888. Two years later Henry Vaughan be-
queathed a number of works, including "The
The casual visitor finds little emotional
excitement, and no literary interest in these
honest interpretations of English scenery.
Constable was never dramatic (^* The Opening of
Waterloo Bridge " may be counted an exception)
or idealistic like Turner. From a scenic point of
view, "The Hay Wain" is dull compared with
" Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus," and knowledge
of art history is not so widely diffused as to give
to "The Hay Wain" the interest it should
command as a pioneer picture in modern land-
scape. Constable does not thrill. Roast beef
does not thrill, but it is wholesome and life-
communicating. Constable was a prosaic man of
genius. Once he said that " painting is another
word for feeling," but he also made that most
characteristic retort to Blake, who, when looking
through one of Constable's sketch - books,
exclaimed on seeing a drawing of fir-trees on
Hampstead Heath — "Why, this is not drawing,
but inspiration." To which Constable quietly
replied — " I meant it for drawing."
Constable never desired to thrill ; his ambition
was merely to be a natural painter, and he would
probably not have been in the least distressed at
the episode related by Mr Sturge Henderson in
his biography. An elegant and attractive
American woman after examining "The Glebe
Farm " in the National Gallery, remarked to her
son, a typical undergraduate: "Does this thrill
you ? " " Not the least in the world," replied the
son, and they passed on. No doubt these cul-
tured moderns desired in a painting the "beauty
touched with strangeness," that Botticelli and
Piero della Francesca offer : there is no place in
such aesthetic lives for the familiarity touched with
honesty of John Constable. To-day his innova-
tions — his attempts to represent the vibration of
light, his spots and splashes of colour to counter-
feit the sun glitter, his touches and scrapings laid
on with the palette knife to obtain force and
brightness — have become a commonplace.
Constable, being a pioneer, was accustomed to
misunderstanding and also to badinage. His
breezy and showery effects, blowing wind,
rustling grasses, waving trees, and wet rain, were
occasionally the subjects of banter from his fellow
Academicians and others. Fuseli, Professor of
Painting, a bad artist, but a good joker, was once
seen to open his umbrella as he entered the
"What are you doing with your umbrella
up?" asked a friend.
" Oh," replied Fuseli, " I am going to look at
Mr Constable's pictures ! "
That was really a great compliment, and I may
cap the story by quoting the brief, bald, criticism
of Sir William Beechy on Constable's " Salisbury
from the Meadows."
Why, d n it, Constable, what a d d fine
picture you are making ; but you look d d ill,
and you have got a d d bad cold."
No. Constable of the " unpicturesque locali-
ties" does not thrill, and his pictures evoke a
meditative rather than an ecstatic mood. In his
large works one never finds the haunting charm
of a fine Corot, the majesty of a Rousseau, or the
clarity of light and colour of a Harpigny. He did
not, except in rare cases, select from the abund-
ance of Nature ; he was content with facts as he
saw them, and he laboured at his surfaces until
sometimes one can hardly disentangle the
incidents for the paint in which they are
enveloped. "The Leaping Horse," in the
Diploma Gallery, is a magnificent performance in
picture-making but it is heavy — heavy as a mid-
day English Sunday dinner. It has force,
strength, knowledge, vigour, but little beauty,
except perhaps in the sweep of sky; and
certainly no strangeness. The signs of labour
are written all over it; you feel that he has
carefully and conscientiously composed this
picture for an exhibition, and that in the long
labour he has lost the early impulse and freshness
of the pensie mhre. To see how much he lost
you have only to study the large sketch for " The
Leaping Horse," in the Victoria and Albert
Museum, finer, bolder, much more instinct with
Hfe and inspiration than the finished production.
Which brings me to the two great divisions of
Constable's life-work — the sketches, which we
are told he did not regard as *' serious," and the
His sketches are innumerable, and all, or at
any rate the great majority of them possess the
impulse, the lyrical note, so often lacking in his
larger canvases. Of course, this criticism
applies to all painters. The sketch is made for
love, the picture for an Exhibition. What could
be more luminously spacious, unworried and
unfettered by the convention of picture-making
than his small oil-sketch of ** Harwich : Sea and
Lighthouse," in the Tate Gallery, of which there
is a pencil sketch at South Kensington, dated
1815. Here is the first impression caught and
transferred to canvas while the blood was still hot,
the pulse quick, and the eyes eager to record this
scene of desolate beauty, vast sky, rippling ocean,
bare foreshore, lonely lighthouse, and one figure
in the foreground, with notes of almost indis-
tinguishable figures beyond the lighthouse, and a
few remote sails upon the sea. It has not the
learning of *'The Hay Wain" or *'The Leaping
Horse," and the steady flame of Constable's fame
would probably long ago have been extinguished
had it depended for existence entirely upon his
sketches ; but, speaking for myself, it is to his
sketches that I go for joy. Verily this student of
Nature, who disliked autumn and loved spring ;
who painted summer, "its breezes, its heat, its
heavy colouring," its gusts of winds, its sudden
storms ; verily he lives in our hearts wherever our
eyes meet his sketches. They induce, they
compel one to linger in such places as the dark
staircase of the Diploma Gallery, in Burlington
House, the walls of which sing out with two
groups of his sketches, significant moments seen
in Nature. That beach and sea ; the rain-storm
streaming down the canvas; those floating
clouds, only the clouds and the sky visible ; that
boat with the red sail labouring in the heavy
water — they are essential Constable. And what
an object lesson in the making of a landscape
painter is provided by the hall of drawings,
pictures, and sketches at the Victoria and Albert
Museum. They are a standing refutation of
Ruskin's words — *' I have never seen any work of
his in which there were signs of his being able to
draw, and hence the most necessary details are
painted by him insufficiently." Constable was
not an inspired draughtsman ; but that he worked
hard at drawing, and that he achieved consider-
able mastery with his pencil is abundantly
testified by the many examples at South Ken-
sington, notably, *'The Study of Trees at
Hampstead," the "Windsor Castle from the
River," the "Cart and Horses," and above all the
magnificent and minute "Stem of an Elm Tree,"
none of which, as has already been noted, Ruskin
had ever seen. These are all interesting, almost
meticulously conscientious, but for John Con-
stable in more daring mood, carried away by the
riot of the scene, we must turn to such sketches
as the chaotic cloud forms of " Weymouth Bay,"
and the splashy, opulent splendour of the oil
sketch called "View on the Stour." Or to the
sketches that emerge, modestly but clamantly,
from the large works on the wall devoted to his
achievement at the National Gallery, which con-
tains no fewer than twenty-two examples by
Constable. One of them, "A Country Lane,"
illustrated in these pages, served as a motive for
his picture of " The Cornfield." The sobriety and
somewhat heavy handling of this oil sketch
places it in a category between the careful con-
struction of the Exhibition pictures, and the
impetuosity of most of the sketches. But the
atmospheric " Salisbury " that hangs below, to the
left of "A Country Lane," which is a preliminary
study without the rainbow for the picture of
"Salisbury from the Meadows," has all the
quick, almost feverish informality of his best
sketches. It is larger than the sketches, but
shows no anxiety. The hand following the eye
stopped when the vision of the eye was recorded,
when all the hurry of the wet glitter of the
scene had been stated in broken pigment. As a
contrast, examine "A Cornfield with Figures,"
a tranquilly beautiful suggestion of late summer —
fifteen and a half inches by nine and a half— thinly
painted rain-clouds floating past, the heat haze
hovering in the field of corn partly reaped and
stocked. The vivid, "Summer Afternoon after a
Shower," hanging near by has an interest apart
from its spontaneity and vigour. It is precisely
what it looks, the recollection of a summer
shower, noted in an ecstatic moment, and
recorded at a sitting. The story is told by
Leslie — how Constable was travelling by coach
either to or from Brighton; how at Redhill he
saw this effect ; how he treasured the memory of
it until the coach reached its destination, and
how "immediately on alighting," he made this
sketch of one wild moment snatched from
It was this constant study of Nature that
distinguished Constable from those of his
academic predecessors and contemporaries who
studied only the works of other painters. It was
PLATE VII. -SALISBURY CATHEDRAL FROM THE
BISHOP'S GARDEN. Victoria and Albert Museum.
In the interval between the painting of "The Hay Wain" (1821)
and its exhibition in Paris (1824), Constable produced "Salisbury
Cathedral from the Bishop's Garden," wherein he attempted to
represent the glitter of sunlight by spots of pure pigment, which
his friends called " Constable's snow."
in this solitary communion with Nature that
Constable showed the originality of his genius.
How thorough he was. He was not content to
note only what his eyes saw, but he also observed
and recorded the time of day and the direction of
" Twenty of Constable's studies of skies made
during this season (1822) are in my possession,"
says Leslie, "and there is but one among them
in which a vestige of landscape is introduced.
They are painted in oil, on large sheets of thick
paper, and all dated, with the time of day, the
direction of the wind, and other memoranda on
their backs. On one, for instance, is written :
'Fifth of September 1822. Ten o'clock
morning, looking south-east, brisk wind at west.
Very bright and fresh, grey clouds running fast
over a yellow bed, about half-way in the sky.*"
That is the real Constable speaking, the
Constable who had "found himself" But we
are never wholly emancipated from tradition, and
knowing the difficulties of his craft he retained
his admiration for the great ones among his
predecessors. In 1824, he wrote : " I looked into
Angerstein's the other day; how paramount is
Maybe. But Claude had to be left alone.
Constable knew that in his heart, and, as he
advanced in wisdom, art at second-hand held
him less and less, and art at first hand, which
is Nature, more and more. He learnt to rely
upon his eyes and the cunning of his hand.
And when he "thanked Heaven he had no
imagination," there was more in that utterance
than appears on the surface.
IN one of his letters, dated 1799, Constable
refers to "a sweet little picture by Jacob
Ruysdael I am copying." He was then
twenty-three years of age, a devoted admirer
and student of his predecessors in landscape, and
able, strange as it may seem to us, to call a
Ruysdael sweet. In the style of the old masters
he continued working until he was nearly forty,
learning from them how to construct a picture,
and "acquiring execution" as he expressed it.
A methodical man was John Constable, a builder
who spared no trouble to make his foundations
sound ; but during those years of spade work in
his voluntary apprenticeship, he never disregarded
his determination to become a natural painter.
It was his custom to study and copy the old
masters during his sojourn in London, but to
paint in his own original way, directly from
Nature and in the open air, when in the country.
An early result of "being himself" during holiday
time was the " Dedham Vale " oil sketch of 1802,
now at South Kensington, a careful, reposeful
picture with trees rising formally at the right,
and the church tower visible just beyond the
winding river. He utilised this sketch for the
large picture exhibited, under the same title, in
1828. The influence of other painters such as the
Dutch landscape men, Gainsborough and Girtin,
may be traced in many of his pictures produced
in the opening years of the nineteenth century
when he was "acquiring the execution" on
which he based his originality. He also painted
portraits ; indeed at one time he proposed to live
by portrait painting. During 1807 and the next
few years he produced several, notably Mr
Charles Lloyd of Birmingham and his wife, which
Mr C. J. Holmes describes as "amateurish and
uncertain in drawing and execution." But there
was nothing amateurish or uncertain about the
" Portrait of a Boy," which I have lately seen, a
ruddy country boy, clad in pretty town-like
clothes, an honest, direct, rich piece of work,
without a hint of affectation, just the vision of the
eye set down straightforwardly. And the fox-
gloves that stand growing by the boy's right hand
are painted as honestly as the striped pantaloons
that this open-air boy wears. Just the kind of
portrait that John Constable would have painted.
He also produced two altarpieces — in 1804, a
"Christ Blessing Little Children" at Brantham
Church, Suffolk ; and in 1809, a " Christ Blessing
the Elements" at Nayland Church.
Eight years later, in 1817, he painted " Flatford
Mill on the Stour," No. 1273 in the National
Gallery, which forms one of our illustrations.
Constable was then forty-one, a somewhat
mature age for a man to produce what may fairly
be called his first important picture. But all his
past life had been a preparation for this photo-
graphic, pleasant transcript of English scenery.
Nothing is left to the imagination, everything is
stated, every inch of canvas is painted with equal
force, yet what an advance it is upon most of the
classical landscapes then in vogue. It is a
picture of England, ripe, lush, carefully composed,
carefully executed, but fresh as are the meadows
on the banks of the Stour ; and the sky across
which the large clouds are drifting is sunny.
This picture was bought in at the Constable sale,
held the year after his death, in 1838, for the very
modest sum of thirty-three guineas.
"The White Horse," called also "A Scene
on the River Stour," exhibited at the Royal
Academy in 1819, which is now in the possession
of Mr Pierpont Morgan, was one of Constable's
early successes. It attracted "more attention
than anything he had before exhibited," and was
bought for one hundred guineas, "exclusive of
the frame," by Archdeacon Fisher, who wrote on
27th April: — "*The White Horse* has arrived;
it is hung on a level with the eye, the frame
resting on the ogee moulding in a western side
light, right for the light in the picture. It looks
magnificently." "The White Horse" realised
one hundred and fifty guineas at the Constable
sale, and in 1894, fifty-six years later, was bought
by Messrs Agnew for six thousand two hundred
With "The White Horse" Constable also
sent to the British Gallery a picture called
"The Mill," which is supposed to be identical
with the " Dedham Mill, Essex," at the Victoria
and Albert Museum. 1819 was a successful
year for Constable, a golden year. He was
summoned to Bergholt to receive the four
thousand pounds he had inherited from his
father ; in this year Mrs Constable also inherited
four thousand pounds; and he was elected an
Associate of the Royal Academy. It was in this
year while at Bergholt that he wrote to his wife
from a grateful and overflowing heart a letter of
which the following is an extract : — " Everything
seems full of blossom of some kind, and at every
step I take, and on whatever subject I turn my
eyes, that sublime expression of the Scriptures,
* I am the resurrection and the Hfe,' seems as if
uttered near me." There spoke the true land-
scape painter, the man of deep feeling, conscious
that in his painting he was interpreting God's
handiwork, and expressing in his chosen medium
the miracle of growth, the eternal movement of
Nature from birth to re-birth. When standing in
that hall at the Victoria and Albert Museum
devoted to his achievement — growth, growth,
growth — from pencil sketch to completed picture,
there are moments when those words of his seem
uttered near to us.
" Dedham Mill " may look to our spoilt modern
eyes a little tame, but detach yourself from the
present, drift into harmony with the picture, and
you may perhaps invoke the spirit of the dead
man who saw temperate beauty in this scene of
his boyhood, and who tried to state his love and
gratitude laboriously with paint and brushes —
poor tools to express the living light and life of
Two years later, in 1821, at the age of forty-
five, he "painted "The Hay Wain," to which I
have referred at length in the opening chapter.
Perhaps some day when the re-organisation of
the National Collections is complete, it will be
found possible to hang the brilliant full-sized
sketch of "The Hay Wain" now at South
Kensington alongside the finished picture in the
National Gallery. In the rough magnificent
sketch you will observe that he had already
begun to use the palette-knife freely in putting
on the colour, a practice to which he became
more and more addicted.
"The Hay Wain" established his fame; but
Constable was not the man to sit down under
success and repeat his triumphs in one particular
method. In the interval between the painting of
"The Hay Wain" and its exhibition in Paris, he
produced " Salisbury from the Bishop's Garden,"
now in the South Kensington collection, wherein
he attempted to represent the glitter of sunlight
by spots of pure pigment which his friends called
"Constable's snow." To us, accustomed to
modern pictures of sunlight, the "spots and
scumbles of pure pigment" in "Salisbury
Cathedral from the Bishop's Garden" are hardly
noticeable, but in 1823 they were an innovation,
although not altogether a new discovery.
Pinturicchio, in his frescoes in the library of Siena
Cathedral, experimented in pointillism, and you
may trace it, too, in some of the pictures by
Vermeer of Delft. " Salisbury from the Bishop's
Garden'* gave Constable considerable trouble.
He was ill and his children were ill. "What
PLATE VIII.— SALISBURY. National Gallery.
A preliminary study, without the rainbow, for the large picture
of " Salisbury from the Meadows," exhibited at the Royal Academy
in 1831. It is larger than his usual sketches, but shows no anxiety.
The hand following the eye stopped when the vision of the eye
was recorded, when all the hurry of the wet glitter of the scene
had been stated in broken pigment.
with anxiety, watching, nursing, and my own
indisposition, I have not see the face of my easel
since Christmas, and it is not the least of my
troubles that the good Bishop's picture is not yet
fit to be seen." Later he describes "SaHsbury
from the Bishop's Garden " as " the most difficult
subject in landscape I ever had upon my easel,"
adding that it "looks uncommonly well," and that
" I have not flinched at the windows, buttresses,
etc., but I have still kept to my grand organ
colour, and have, as usual, made my escape in
the evanescence of the Chiaroscuro."
**The Lock," another of his well-known
pictures, was purchased from the Royal Academy
Exhibition of 1824 by Mr Morrison for **one
hundred and fifty guineas, including the frame."
The superb oil sketch for " The Lock " was sold
at Christie's in 1901 for nineteen hundred guineas.
It is an upright picture of sunshine and gusty
wind, and represents a lock-keeper opening the
gates for the passage of a boat. "My 'Lock*
wrote Constable to Fisher, "is liked at the
Academy, and indeed it forms a decided feature,
and its light cannot be put out, because it is the
light of Nature, the mother of all that is valuable
in poetry, painting, or anything else where an
appeal to the soul is required. . . . But my
execution annoys most of them, and all the
scholastic ones. Perhaps the sacrifices I make for
lightness and brightness are too great, but these
things are the essence of landscape, and my ex-
treme is better than white-lead and oil, and dado
painting." Probably no other landscape painter
has expressed the intention of his art as clearly in
writing as with his brushes. Light! The light
of Nature ! The mother of all that is valuable in
painting! That was Constable's secret — the
knowledge of light, a secret that was hidden
from the eyes of worthy Sir George Beaumont.
**The Leaping Horse" of 1825, to which
reference has already been made, called by some
his "grandest painting," reposes in the Diploma
Gallery at Burlington House. Several changes
were made in the picture after its exhibition
at the Royal Academy, which the curious can
verify by a study of the full-sized sketch at
South Kensington. From this year onward
the movement of Nature and the brilliancy of
objects in sunlight intrigued him more and more,
although his passion for light never reached the
white-hot fervour of Turner in his latter years.
For Turner the sunrise, a world almost too
beautiful and evanescent to be real ; for Constable
the noonday glow, the still heat haze, seen
between cool, dark trees, hovering over a field of
ripe corn, as in " The Cornfield," painted when he
was fifty — a typical Constable. Constable was
pleased with "The Cornfield." Writing of it
to Fisher he said: "It is not neglected in any
part; the trees are more than usually studied,
well defined as well as the stems; they are
shaken by a pleasant and healthftil breeze at
* While now a fresher gale
Sweeping with shadowy gusts the fields of corn . . . .' "
This picture, perhaps the best known and
most popular of his works, was presented to the
National Gallery in 1837, by an association of
gentlemen, who purchased it of the painter's
executors. Some of them wished to substitute
for this gift the fine "Salisbury Cathedral from
the Meadows" with the rainbow, of which the
" Salisbury," No. 1814, in the National Gallery, is a
study, but "the boldness of its execution" we are
told "stood in its way," and the "Cornfield" was
purchased instead. The association of gentle-
men need not have been apprehensive that the
"boldness of the execution" of "Salisbury from
the Meadows " would have frightened succeeding
generations. The Munich Secessionists would
call it commonplace, and the most old-fashioned
member of the selecting committee of a current
Royal Academy Exhibition would see in it only a
fine picture, forcibly painted but too insistent on
detail. The landscape point of view has changed
The magnificent *' Opening of Waterloo
Bridge " which, to those who had not seen it in
Sir Charles Tennant's collection, came as a
revelation when shown at the Old Masters'
Exhibition, gave Constable continuous trouble
and anxiety. He was years over it, and *'he
indulged in the vagaries of the palette-knife to
an excess." It was not understood : it was not
liked. **Very unfinished, sir," was the comment
of his friend, Thomas Stothard, R. A. ; and, says
LesHe, "the picture was generally pronounced
a failure." This brilliant presentation of the
King embarking at Whitehall stairs, the water
dancing, the air fluttering with gay banners and
the sails of bright and sumptuous barges, was
hung next to a grey sea-piece by Turner, who
promptly placed a bright spot of red lead in
the foreground of his own grey picture. The
vivacity of Constable's river fete lost something
by that spot of vivid red. "Turner has been
here and fired a gun," said Constable. The
flash remained, although "in the last moments
allowed for painting. Turner glazed the scarlet
seal he had put upon his picture, and shaped
it into a buoy." Considerable doubt has been
thrown on Leslie's statement "that soon after
Constable's death the picture was toned to the
aristocratic taste of the period by a coat of
blacking." The picture bears no trace of a coat
In the somewhat solemn and simple "Valley
Farm," painted in 1835, two years before his
death, Constable returned to the scenes of his
boyhood, to Willy Lott's house on the bank of the
Stour. His hand and eye have lost something
of their grip and freshness, but his purpose is as
firm as ever. " I have preserved God Almighty's
daylight," he wrote, "which is enjoyed by all
mankind, excepting only the lovers of old dirty
canvas, perished pictures at a thousand guineas
each, cart grease, tar, and snuff of candle."
The old Adam, you perceive, was still strong in
" The Cenotaph," now in the National Gallery,
was exhibited in the Royal Academy of 1836 — the
subject being the cenotaph erected by Sir George
Beaumont in memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds,
a tribute of affection and respect. It is some-
what heavy in treatment. Did Constable, I
wonder, realise that his work was nearly done?
Was the uninspiriting "Cenotaph" in his mind
when, in the autumn of this year, he wrote so
generously about the pictures that his great
contemporary was exhibiting: — "Turner has
outdone himself; he seems to paint with tinted
steam, so evanescent and so airy."
Constable's last work was " Arundel Mill and
Castle," upon which he was engaged on the day
of his death, 31st March 1837.
His pictures are familiar to many who have
not seen all the originals, through David
Lucas's mezzotints. The first series of twenty
mezzotints was published in 1833 under the title,
''Various Subjects of Landscape, characteristic
of English Scenery, principally intended to
display the Phenomena of the Chiar'oscuro of
Nature." Constable devoted much attention to
the enterprise during the remainder of his life,
inspired to make it as fine as possible by the
example of Claude's "Liber Veritatis" and
Turner's "Liber Studiorum." But its "duration,
its expense, its hopelessness of remuneration"
oppressed him. "It harasses my days and
disturbs my rest at nights" he wrote in 1831.
Constable took things hardly, very hardly, after
his wife's death in 1828.
HIS PERSONALITY AND OPINIONS
THE personality of Constable was not
romantic. In writing of him one has no
moods of wonderment or bafflement, and
the pen is not tempted to flights of wonder or
fancy. The life of Turner might inspire a poem ;
but plain prose is the only vehicle for a considera-
tion of the life of Constable. He was a sane,
level-headed man compact of common-sense and
practicality, a man of one great, embracive idea :
that having studied the science of picture-making
from the earlier masters, the landscape painter
must learn from Nature and not from the
derivative pictures of his contemporaries.
Constable pursued that course with the single-
heartedness of a man who devotes his life to
some great commercial undertaking. Indeed
the portraits of Constable might represent a
prosperous and cultured banker, especially those
of his later years, were it not for the full, obser-
vant eye that you feel surveys a wider domain
than Lombard Street. Religious in the true sense,
dutiful, humble before the mysteries of things;
old-fashioned in the true sense, a lover and a
quoter of good poetry and of the Bible, he had
on occasion a sharp and shrewd tongue, but the
sting was salved by the absolute sincerity of his
intention. Leslie devotes considerable space to
a record of Constable's opinions and sayings,
many of which have been quoted in these pages.
Of a certain contemporary he said — ''More
over-bearing meekness I never met with in
any one man." Of his own pictures he said —
"They will never be popular, for they have
no handling. But I do not see any handhng in
Here is a saying about his art which sums
up the whole tendency of his Hfe — "Whatever
may be thought of my art, it is my own ; and
I would rather possess a freehold, though but
a cottage, than live in a palace belonging to
another." And here is his comment on the
unintelligent connoisseurship of his time — "The
old rubbish of art, the musty, commonplace,
wretched pictures which gentlemen collect,
hang up, and display to their friends, may be
compared to Shakespeare's —
* Beggarly account of empty boxes,
Alligators stuffed,' etc.
Nature is anything but this, either in poetry,
painting, or in the fields."
The lectures on Landscape Painting that he
delivered at the Royal Institution in Albemarle
Street, at the Hampstead Assembly Rooms, and
at Worcester were never written, although an
abstract of the first was found among his papers.
He spoke from brief notes and made much use
of a number of copies and engravings affixed to
the walls. The notes taken by Leslie and
embodied in his Life of Constable are the only
record we have apart from the abstract of the
first lecture. The belittlers of Claude should
make a note of Constable's idolatry for him: —
" In Claude's landscape all is lovely — all amiable
— all is amenity and repose ; — the calm sunshine
of the heart. He carried landscape, indeed, to
perfection, that is, human perfection." Constable
selected four works as marking four memorable
points in the history of landscape — Titian's
"Peter Martyr," Poussin's "Deluge," Rubens'
"Rainbow," and Rembrandt's "Mill." In the
choice of the Rubens and the Rembrandt
everybody must concur. As Constable never
visited Italy he can only have known the " Peter
Martyr" from engravings. It was destroyed by
fire in 1867, but a copy exists at S. Giovanni
Paolo in Venice. Constable had the courage of
his opinions, and of all his opinions the most
astonishing is his strong disapproval of a
national collection of pictures. In 1822 he
wrote — "should there be a National Gallery
(which is talked of) there will be an end of the
art in poor old England, and she will become, in
all that relates to painting, as much a nonentity
as every other country that has one. The reason
is plain ; the manufacturers of pictures are then
made the criterions of perfection, instead of
As a lecturer Constable seems to have relied
in a great measure on the inspiration of the
moment. Leslie also records the charm of a
most agreeable voice, although pitched some-
what too lov/, and the play of his very expressive
countenance. His survey of the history of
landscape painting closed with an eulogy of
Wilson, Gainsborough, Cozens, and Girtin, and I
may close with a brief passage, essential Con-
stable, from the lecture delivered at Hampstead
on 25th July 1836. "The landscape painter must
walk in the fields with a humble mind. No
arrogant man was ever permitted to see Nature
in all her beauty. If I may be allowed to
use a very solemn quotation, I would say most
emphatically to the student — * Remember now
thy Creator in the days of thy youth.'"
The plates are printed by Bemrosk <5h Sons, Ltd., Derby and London
The text at the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh
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