What really struck me about this V&A exhibition is the personal aspect of Constable’s work. The exhibition not only demonstrated his ability to transform the subtleties of the outdoors onto paper in intense & powerful sketches and oil paintings but also recreated the artistic learning processes that shaped Constable into ‘a Master’. A quote by Constable possibly summarises the work of this master most poignantly; ‘I should paint my own places best’. The exhibition starts with a film of various Suffolk and outer-London scenes. I felt that this interaction placed me in the position of the observer and in the mind-set of the painter. Like Constable, this exhibition allows one to observe moving nature and study the work of those who influenced his work. Although Constable’s later pieces produced for the Royal Arts Academy are considered his masterpieces, I favoured his quick studies of the Suffolk Landscape, probably made on a small piece of paper that rested on his lunchbox as he sat on the downs. For instance, Constable beautifully renders the low horizon in the sunset scene, ‘Dedham Vale: Evening’, 1802, as the red/orange lighting settles on the outline of grazing livestock and the rise and fall of the meandering hills. Constable recorded this scene many times as he enjoyed painting places that he knew best; I felt a real sense of nostalgia and familiarity when looking at his oil sketches.
Dedham Vale: Evening, John Constable, oil on canvas, 1802.© Victoria and Albert Museum
Constable’s 1805 ‘Weymouth Bay and ‘Rainstorm over the Sea’, 1824-1828, were particular favourites of mine because both pieces capture nature’s every action so that the viewer feels a part of the environment itself. Constable imitates the weathering and movement of light so meticulously that it is clear when Constable was painting this scene he was fighting against the elements, though this did not stop him. Constable does not just record what is in front of him but captures the scene’s transient nature. This skill was possibly taught by one of Constable’s artist peers who advised him to, ‘Always remember that light and shadow never stand still’.
Rainstorm over the Sea, oil on paper laid on canvas, 1888 © Royal Academy of Arts
Weymouth Bay, oil on canvas, 1816 © Victoria and Albert Museum
Thomas Jones, J.M.W. Turner and Benjamin West are all artists that Constable studied and learnt from. I really enjoyed the fact that this exhibition gives the viewer the opportunity not just to see Constable’s final pieces but to gain a greater understanding of how these were produced. Through Constable’s ‘The Leaping Horse’ 1819-1825 series it was clear that his masterpieces were not just thought up in the spur of the moment but instead part of a lengthy process which attempted to produce the scene with all the dynamic of nature’s changing state. I really admire the work of Constable and feel that it is his revolutionary dedication to the places that he knew best and experimental study of the natural, experiencing all sorts of weather conditions whilst painting outdoors, that drove his mastery and influences the way that we now depict nature, in art. Outside on this sunny autumn afternoon, I saw scenes of silhouetted football players running across the common and clouds playfully moving across the sky, resting shadows on the grass, which were reminiscent of Constable’s work. I felt I began to see my environment through a Constable-like lens.
Words: Leonie Rousham, 17