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Constable, John (1776-1837)

Now recognised as one of the most important figures in the history of British landscape painting, Constable had a long struggle to achieve success, first against his family’s opposition to his becoming a painter and then against conservative elements in the London art world. It was only in 1829, at the age of 52, that he was elected an RA, though his exhibits at the Paris Salon of 1824 (including The Hay-Wain) had attracted the attention of forward-looking painters such as Delacroix as well as that of French dealers. He worked out of doors in both watercolour and oils, seeking to capture the transitory effects of light and weather, and strove to maintain this feeling of naturalism and immediacy even in his six-foot canvases. Constable’s favourite subjects were the familiar views of his childhood in the Stour valley in Suffolk and he rarely made visits outside southern England. His only trip to the Lake District, in September-October 1806, lasted seven weeks and inspired nearly a hundred drawings and watercolours made on the spot and about a dozen paintings created in his studio in London; several of the latter were exhibited at the Royal Academy and British Institution in 1807-9. The visit was suggested (and financed) by Constable’s wealthy maternal uncle, the former wine merchant and lifelong philanthropist David Pike Watts (1754-1816), who had recently occupied Storrs Hall on the east side of Lake Windermere; it would certainly have been encouraged by the artist’s other mentors, Farington and Beaumont, the latter encouraging him to study the works of Girtin for their ‘great breadth and truth’. Though some details of the tour remain obscure, the broad essentials of its course may be traced through the artist’s own dated sketches and the journals of Jessy, the wife of John Harden, who provided hospitality to Constable for two periods during his tour; it has been the focus of a Wordsworth Trust exhibition (see Hebron, Shields and Wilcox, 2006). For much of the time Constable was accompanied by a Kendal resident, George Gardner, the barrister son of an old friend in London who had been a native of the town: the fashionable portrait painter in pastels Daniel Gardner (1750-1805). Constable approached the Lake District via Manchester (a tiny dated drawing in the Whitworth Art Gallery was made on 27 August) and his first subject was Kendal Castle (drawn on 1 September). The pair stayed briefly with one of Watts’ former neighbours at Storrs, Richard Worgan, before moving, on about 8 September, to Brathay Hall where they remained with the Hardens for about a week; here Constable met Charles Lloyd of Old Brathay and, through him, Wordsworth and Coleridge. Although Harden and Constable went out sketching together twice, they were often kept indoors by poor weather; this led to Constable painting portraits of both his hosts; that of Jessy occupied him for five hours on a rainy Sunday, 14 September, and was finished the next day. On about 16 September the two travelling companions headed north to Keswick and thence to Borrowdale where Constable remained, sketching energetically, for around three weeks (about half of his entire visit); Gardner, bored with his role of onlooker, returned to the Hardens after ten days. Constable spent a further short period at Brathay arriving on Wednesday 15 October (another wet day, so he began a portrait of John); his last dated drawing (of Langdale) bears the date of 19 October. His return journey to London in November included a visit to Lloyd’s relations in Birmingham, where he drew portraits of several members of the family including Charles’s sister Priscilla who had married Wordsworth’s brother Christopher in 1804. Very few of the oil paintings of the Lakes recorded as exhibited by Constable have been traced. His View in Westmoreland (RA 1807, no. 52; whereabouts unknown) attracted the artist’s earliest known press notice (St James’s Chronicle, 7-9 May); a work in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, was once thought to be another of Constable’s 1807 exhibits but this idea and its attribution to the artist are now regarded as dubious; in April 1809 Farington advised Constable against sending a now-unidentified five-foot Borrowdale scene to the RA, as being too-sketch-like and ‘wanting variety of colour & effect’ (IX.3431-2).
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Reference Constable, John (1776-1837)
There are 20 works by Constable, John (1776-1837) in the Trust's collection, e.g.:
1990.16 # Dawe, Henry after John Constable. - Helvellyn. - Mezzotint, proof state, 1815. - 230 x 400mm.
1992.65 # Constable, John. - Priscilla Lloyd, half-length. - 1806. - Pencil. - 432 x 331mm
1993.R1699 Constable, John. - John Constable's correspondence III the correspondence with C.R. Leslie, edited, with an introduction and notes, by R.B. Beckett. - Ipswich : Suffolk Records Society, 1965. - 253 x 160mm ; text block height 243mm ; green cloth with dust jacket ; volume VIII.
1994.64.16 # Lucas, David after John Constable. - Weymouth Bay, Dorsetshire. - No place of publication, 1832. - Mezzotint. - 178 x 230mm.
2002.58.12 Reynolds, Graham. - The later paintings and drawings of John Constable. - New Haven ; London : Yale University Press, 1984. - Text block height 295mm ; blue cloth covered boards, gilt title lettering on spine, illustrated paper dustjacket. - Card insert with title page.

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