The White Horse by John Constable

The White Horse by John Constable (1819)

If I was to ask you what was your idea of an English countryside I am sure a large number of you would think about the paintings of John Constable, such as his famous work, The Hay Wain.  Certainly when I conjure up in my mind the tranquillity of the countryside, I reflect on the beauty of the English country landscapes paintings of the English Romantic artist John Constable.  In fact the term “Constable Country” is often used to describe the loveliness of that part of the eastern England located on the Suffolk and Essex border.  It is a truly wonderful area with countryside which lends itself easily to paintings.   Like Thomas Gainsborough, Constable was influenced by Dutch artists such as Jacob van Ruisdael. The works of Rubens proved to be useful colouristic and compositional models. However, the realism and vitality of Constable’s work make it highly original.

John Constable was born in 1776 in the village of East Bergholt in the county of Suffolk.  Art historians tell us that he was not a naturally gifted artist and it took many years of hard work and his love of art to place him alongside Turner as one of the two greatest figures in the history of British landscape painting.   He always wanted to pursue an artist’s life and had to fend off pressure for him to become a clergyman.  Eventually after leaving Dedham Grammar School he trained for a career in the family business.   Whilst living at home he had many opportunities to sketch the Stour area and he met up with and became a close friend of Sir George Beaumont, an artist and collector, who would later establish the National Academy.  It was he who would once again awaken Constable’s love of painting and would later tutor him at the Academy.  

When he was twenty three and after much pressurising of his father, he was allowed to leave the family business and follow his passion for art and he became a student at the Royal Academy Schools of London.  Also studying at that Academy was Turner, although they never became close associates. 

He exhibited his first paintings in 1802, but unlike Turner, Constable did not sell many of his works.  In fact during his lifetime he only sold twenty paintings and failed to gain the recognition achieved by Turner in Britain although that was not the case in France where his works were well received.  His paintings, especially his “six footers” greatly influenced the French artist Delacroix and the French Romantic Movement.  He also inspired the Barbizon School, which is the name given to a community of mid-19th-century painters who worked in and around the village of Barbizon in the forest of Fontainebleau, south-east of Paris.   They painted landscapes and scenes of rural life, occasionally working in the open air.  John Constable died in Hampstead, London in 1837, aged 60.

 My Daily Art Display for today is The White Horse which Constable completed in 1819 and is part of the Frick Collection in New York.  This was the first of Constable’s “six footer” exhibition canvases, a set of 6ft x 4ft landscape paintings he completed between 1818 and the mid 1830’s.   He started with sketching the scenes outdoors but because of the size of the finished paintings he had to come indoors to work on the finished product.  

The view in this work of art is from the south bank of the River Stour, looking back across the river just below Flatford. The barge on the left has taken on board the white horse and is about to set off to reach a spot downstream where the tow path resumes on the opposite bank. Cows can be seen wading in the shallow waters.   Just beyond the barge is a small island called ‘The Spong’. Willy Lott’s house, which is featured in Constable’s The Hay Wain, is just visible to the left centre in the middle distance. Following the exhibition of this work, Constable was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.

If you liked today’s painting why not go and discover other  Constable’s  “six footers” such as, Salisbury Castle from the Meadows, 1831, Stratford Mill, 1820 and of course The Hay Wain, 1821.

His” six footer” painting entitled Hadleigh Castle, which he painted a year after his wife Maria died of tuberculosis, is a more sombre painting which probably reflects Constable’s mood at the time and who said of his late wife:

” I shall never feel again as I have felt.

The face of the world is totally changed to me.”

Take some time and ave a look at some of John Constable’s works and see if you have a favourite.