John Constable

Topics: John Constable, East Bergholt, Dedham, Essex Pages: 5 (1780 words) Published: January 10, 2013
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...
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