John Constable (1776 – 1837)

On June 11th, 1776, birth of John Constable, English landscape painter. Now considered one of the greatest English painters, but during his life more successful outside England than at home. From Suffolk, England, Constable spent almost his whole life painting the local landscape, with clouds full of rain. His paintings show the England we know from Jane Austen and Downton Abbey. It all looks very romantic, and even the endless rain and clouds have their own charm.

John Constable (1776 – 1837), “Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden” (1826), 89x112cm, Oil on Canvas, The Frick Collection, New York.

Here is Constable’s “Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden”, from 1826. Painted for his friend the Bishop of Salisbury. The Bishop and his wife are standing in the front and he points out to the spire of the cathedral. An earlier version of this painting exists (in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum), but when the Bishop had seen that version he asked Constable if the weather could maybe be a bit more sunny. That’s why this second version has more blue sky. Apparently even for the English themselves, the endless clouds and rain can become too much. In our modern days of Instagram, one would put a filter over it. And that’s what Constable did by painting this second and more sunny version. Unfortunately the Bishop died just before his “sunny” painting was completed. It’s now on view in the Frick Collection, New York.

John Constable (1776 – 1837), “Stonehenge” (1835), 39x60cm, Watercolor, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Also here is Constable’s wonderful 1835 watercolor painting of the Stonehenge ruins. This watercolor expresses sadness. Its painted after his dear beloved wife passed away and left him alone with their seven children. Constable was extremely sad and deep grief came over him. Look now at this painting. We see one strong remote set of stones standing in the centre, all other pieces have fallen to earth. But lonely as these remote standing stones are, there is hope. A beam of light (or is it a rainbow?) gives warmth and power. I think Constable is expressing his feelings here and also uses this painting to cope with his grief. Constable is like that lonely standing piece. Everything around him fell down, but Constable knows that he needs to cope with his losses. This beautiful Stonehenge watercolor painting confirms to me the healing strength of art. Constable himself said: “Painting is but another word for feeling”.