Author(s): Jonathan Clarkson
This lavishly illustrated monograph of the great British landscapist John Constable (1776-1837) presents a definitive survey of the painter's life and works. Jonathan Clarkson offers a comprehensive assessment of Constable's oeuvre, from his earliest line drawings to his last masterpieces, including pencil drawings, quick outdoor oil sketches, painstakingly worked studio canvasses, and less well-known portraits. Born the son of miller, merchant and gentleman farmer in the small village of East Bergholt, in rural Suffolk, it was not immediately obvious that John Constable would pursue a career in the art world. However, the young Constable became a keen amateur landscape painter, inspired by the rural surroundings of his beloved Bergholt home. With the encouragement of local wealthy connoisseur Sir George Beaumont, whose collection introduced the artist to such masters of landscape such as Claude Lorrain, and an allowance from his father, Constable was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools, London, in 1799. There he studied the work of such masters as Lorrain, Gainsborough and Ruisdael and developed his own style of meticulous observation of natural detail combined with contemporary aesthetic theory. On leaving the Academy Constable rejected a financially rewarding position as a drawing master to sketch and paint in the English countryside for nearly ten years, in search of an honest yet coherent and dignified 'natural painture' style, and pioneered the revolutionary practice of making finished paintings in the outdoors, direct from nature. Commercial success came with Constable's decision to exhibit large works at the British Institution. These 'six-footers', which secured his position among the greatest British painters of his age, included such enduringly famous canvases as The Hay Wain. In this new monograph Jonathan Clarkson looks afresh at these great paintings and investigates what we actually can see in them. Set against the rapidly changing way of life in nineteenth-century Britain Constable's paintings are both portraits of a disappearing world and reflections of his belief that 'Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature'. Since his death, Constable has been condemned for presenting a wilfully inauthentic vision of the early nineteenth-century English countryside, which was ravaged by unemployment, crime and intense poverty in the years following the Napoleonic wars. However, his importance for Realism and for painting as a practice in itself cannot be underestimated. Clarkson draws attention to Constable's direct influence, not only on landscape painters, but also on figurative artists in his own time and on to such twentieth-century painters as Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach.
Jonathan Clarkson lectures on the history and theory of art at Cardiff School of Art and Design, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff. He completed his Ph.D. on psychoanalysis, fantasy and the visual imagination at the University of Essex in 1996. He has published an essay on Constable's Wivenhoe Park and was co-editor of Constable and Wivenhoe Park: Reality and Vision (2000). He has also published essays on contemporary painting, photography and sculpture, and was co-editor of Sense of Place (2006) documenting a Europe-wide programme of exhibitions of site-specific art.
Introduction / Chapter 1. Careless Boyhood Growing up in East Bergholt / Chapter 2. Running After Pictures Student Life in London / Chapter 3. Obscurity Life as a Minor Artist / Chapter 4. The Light of Nature Oil Sketching in the Open Air / Chapter 5. Ambition Six-Footers and Set-Pieces (1816-28) / Chapter 6. Beyond Constable Country Salisbury, Hampstead, Brighton (1816-27) / Chapter 7. Representing the City The Story of Waterloo Bridge / Chapter 8. The Face of the World is Totally Changed to Me Bereavement and Professional Recognition / Chapter 9. Rediscovery and Reinvention Critics and Supporters / Chronology / Map / Biography / Index / Acknowledgements