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John Constable: Man with the Meticulous Eye for Landscapes

John Constable was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk to a merchant who dealt with corn, coal, and farming on June 11, 1776. He gave a considerable amount of time and effort towards creating paintings of the nearby scenery, particularly the places that reminded him of his carefree childhood. According to him, these experiences were instrumental in shaping his career as an artist. Despite being the second-born, Constable was seen as the natural heir to his father’s trade since his older brother was mentally challenged. Following a short stint at a boarding school located in Lavenham, he began attending a day school in Dedham. After completing his education, Constable ventured into the corn industry. However, the managerial responsibilities of the mills were eventually handed over to his younger sibling Abram.

Salisbury Cathedral from The Bishop`s Ground, oil painting, John Constable, 1823, England. Museum no. FA.33[O]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Constable’s pivotal moment occurred in 1795 when he encountered Sir George Beaumont, an enthusiast artist and collector, who introduced him to a stunning array of masterpieces by Old Masters. He obtained a knowledge of art history and theory through his contemporary John Cranch, who gave him a catalog of recommended readings for painters, and his acquaintance John Thomas “Antiquity” Smith loaned him drawings and prints. In 1799, Constable began his journey as a painter by enrolling in the Royal Academy Schools located in London. In that very year, Constable made his debut at the Academy with his maiden landscape painting, which marked the beginning of his long-standing relationship with the institution as he continued to showcase his work there every year until his final days. Additionally, he secured a workspace that was situated across the street from his family’s residence.

Image: Daniel Gardner, ‘Portrait of John Constable’, 1796, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London / Stapleton Collection / Bridgeman Art Library

In 1802, Constable declined a position as a drawing instructor at a military academy to focus exclusively on his passion for painting landscapes and immersing himself in the natural beauty of the English countryside. In that particular year, he displayed his art for the initial time at the Royal Academy. Although he had initially dabbled in oil exploration, he chose to focus on watercolours and graphic materials for his investigations of the natural world during the initial years of this decade. His journey to the Lake District in autumn 1806 inspired him to produce exceptional artwork in various mediums. Unfortunately, his attempts to showcasethese works in 1807 and 1808 proved fruitless in captivating the public’s attention. With the exception of a trip to the Lake District for two months in 1806, Constable made it a custom to spend his summers drawing and painting in the East Bergholt area, before heading back to London for the winter. Since he was not able to secure any buyers or commissions for his landscapes, he resorted to doing portraits to increase his meager earnings. Even though he created some impressive portraits, he found the task monotonous compared to the joy he found in painting landscapes.

Old Sarum, watercolour, John Constable, 1834, England. Museum no. 1628-1888. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

He created numerous outdoor drawings, which served as the foundation for his major exhibition artworks that he developed in his studio. Although his pictures are highly sought-after nowadays, they were not warmly welcomed during his lifetime in England. Despite not being entirely successful, he achieved significant accomplishments in Paris. Constable, just like Thomas Gainsborough, was inspired by the works of Dutch painters such as Jacob van Ruisdael. Both Peter Paul Rubens and Claude’s artistic creations serve as valuable examples of color use and composition. The high level of originality in Constable’s work originates from its realistic and animated qualities.