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Title: Constable
Author: Hind, C. Lewis (Charles Lewis), 1862-1927
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: cover art]








National Gallery.

In "The Valley Farm," exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835, two years
before his death, Constable returned to the scenes of his boyhood, to
Willy Lott's house on the banks of the Stour.  His hand and eye have
lost something of their grip and freshness, but his purpose is as firm
as ever.  "I have preserved God Almighty's day light," he wrote, "which
is enjoyed by all mankind, excepting only the lovers of old, dirty
canvas, perished pictures at a thousand guineas each, cart grease, tar,
and snuff of candle."  The old Adam, you perceive, was still strong in

[Illustration: PLATE I.--THE VALLEY FARM.]





[Illustration: title page art]






   I. The Year 1824
  II. The Brown Tree
 III. His Life
  IV. His Sketches
   V. His Pictures
  VI. His Personality and Opinions



    I. The Valley Farm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
           (National Gallery)

   II. The Hay Wain
           (National Gallery)

  III. The Corn Field
           (National Gallery)

   IV. Flatford Mill
           (National Gallery)

    V. Dedham Mill
           (Victoria and Albert Museum)

   VI. A Country Lane
           (National Gallery)

  VII. Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Garden
           (Victoria and Albert Museum)

 VIII. Salisbury
           (National Gallery)

[Illustration: Constable]



John Constable was forty-eight years of age in 1824, a memorable year
in the history of landscape painting.  A date to be remembered is 1824,
for in that year Constable's "Hay Wain" was hung in the French Salon.
That picture, which is now in the National Gallery, marked an epoch in
landscape art.

Reams have been written about the influence of "The Hay Wain" upon
French art, by critics who are all for Constable, by critics who are
complimentary but temperate; and by critics who are lukewarm and almost
resentful of the place claimed for Constable as protagonist of
nineteenth century landscape art.  A guerilla critical warfare has also
raged around the influence of Turner.  Constable and Turner!  Most
modern landscape painters have, at one time or another, learnt from
these two great pioneers.  Turner is more potent to-day, but his
influence took longer to assert itself.  It was not until 1870 that
Monet visited London to be dazzled by the range and splendour of Turner
at the National Gallery.  Forty-six years had passed since "The Hay
Wain" was exhibited at the Salon.  In that half-century the Barbizon
School, those great men of 1830, Corot, Rousseau, Millet, Daubigny,
Troyon, Diaz, and the rest had come to fruition.  Constable has been
claimed as their parent.  Thoré, the French critic, who wrote under the
name of G. W. Burger, affirms that Constable was the _point de depart_
of the Barbizon School; but Albert Wolff, another eminent French
critic, was not of that opinion.  Thoré, writing in 1863, also said
that although Constable had stimulated in France a school of painting
unrivalled in the modern world, he had had no influence in his own
country, a far too sweeping statement.


PLATE II.--THE HAY WAIN.  National Gallery.

Painted in 1821, exhibited in the French Salon in 1824, "The Hay Wain,"
with two other smaller works, which had been purchased from Constable
by a French connoisseur, aroused extraordinary interest in Paris, and
had a potent influence on French landscape art.  So impressed was
Delacroix with the naturalness, the freshness, and the brightness of
Constable's pictures at the 1824 Salon, that he completely repainted
his "Massacre of Scio" in the four days that intervened before the
opening of the exhibition.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--THE HAY WAIN.]


The truth about Constable's influence on French art would seem to be
midway between the opinions of Thoré and Wolff.  That Constable's
exhibits at the Salon of 1824, which included two smaller landscapes
besides "The Hay Wain," did arouse extraordinary interest, and did have
a potent influence on French landscape art, there is no shadow of
doubt.  So impressed was Delacroix with the naturalness, the freshness,
and the brightness of Constable's pictures at the 1824 Salon, that,
after studying them, he completely repainted his "Massacre of Scio" in
the four days that intervened before the opening of the exhibition; and
the following year Delacroix visited London eager to see more of
Constable's work.  There is also the testimony of William Brockedon,
who, on his return from the Salon, wrote thus to the painter of "The
Hay Wain."  The text of the letter is printed in C. R. Leslie's Memoirs
of the _Life of Constable_, a mine of information in which all writers
on John Constable, whom de Goncourt called "_le grand, le grandissime
maître_," must delve.

"My dear Constable," wrote William Brockedon, "You will find in the
enclosed some remarks upon your pictures at Paris.  I returned last
night and brought this with me.  The French have been forcibly struck
by them, and they have created a division in the school of the
landscape painters of France.  You are accused of carelessness by those
who acknowledge the truth of your effect; and the freshness of your
pictures has taught them that though your means may not be essential,
your end must be to produce an imitation of Nature, and the next
Exhibition in Paris will teem with your imitators, or the school of
Nature versus the school of Birmingham.  I saw one man draw another to
your pictures with this expression--'Look at these landscapes by an
Englishman; the ground appears to be covered with dew.'"

Note these passages: _They have created a division in the school of the
landscape painters of France--Paris will teem with your imitators--The
ground appears to be covered with dew._

Constable received the gratifying news very quietly.  Writing to Fisher
from Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, on 17th December 1824, he
remarked--"My Paris affairs go on very well.  Though the Director, the
Count Forbin, gave my pictures very respectable situations in the
Louvre in the first instance, yet on being exhibited a few weeks, they
advanced in reputation, and were removed from their original situations
to a post of honour, two prime places in the principal room.  I am much
indebted to the artists for their alarum in my favour; but I must do
justice to the Count, who is no artist I believe, and thought that as
the colours are rough they should be seen at a distance.  They found
the mistake, and now acknowledge the richness of texture, and attention
to the surface of things.  They are struck with their vivacity and
freshness, things unknown to their own pictures.  The truth is, they
study (and they are very laborious students) pictures only, and as
Northcote says, 'They know as little of Nature as a hackney-coach horse
does of a pasture' ... However, it is certain they have made a stir,
and set the students in landscape to thinking."

Note the passages: _They are struck with their vivacity and
freshness--The truth is they study pictures only._

I have quoted these letters at length, because they are first-hand
authorities, and because they state, with simple directness, the effect
of Constable's pictures at the Salon of 1824.  The two smaller works
that accompanied "The Hay Wain" we may disregard for the moment, and
ask what is there in "The Hay Wain" that it should have so startled the
French painting world, and that it should have marked an epoch in the
history of landscape art.  Stand before "The Hay Wain" in the National
Gallery and ask yourself that question.  If you are honest, you will
admit, perhaps only to yourself, that "The Hay Wain" looks a little
old-fashioned.  And you will also admit that the full-sized sketch for
"The Hay Wain," which you have surely noticed hanging in the Constable
room at the Victoria and Albert Museum, pleases you better on account
of its greater brilliance, vigour, and impulse.  The finished picture,
though very powerful, seems a little stolid, a little laboured, as if
the painter had left nothing to "happy accident" but had worked with
John Bull conscientiousness over every inch of the canvas.  You have in
the last decade or two seen so many landscapes--pearly, atmospheric,
spacious, vivid and vibrating with sunshine, that this "Hay Wain" by
honest John, this English pastoral with the great sky, the shimmering
water, and the leaves carefully accented with colour to represent the
flickers of light, does not astonish you.  Perhaps you pass it by
without a pause, without even a cursory examination.  But remember this
is 1909, and "The Hay Wain" made its sensation in 1824.  In those
eighty-five years landscape painting has progressed at a faster rate
than in all the preceding centuries.  In 1824 "The Hay Wain" was a
fresh vision, very new and arresting.  Why?  Simply because Constable
returned to Nature and painted Nature.  Again and again has this
happened in the history of art from the time of Giotto onwards.  The
little men falter on, copying one another, "studying pictures only," in
Constable's phrase; the public accepts their wooden performances as
true art; then the great man arises, often a very simple,
straight-thinking, modest man like this John Constable, and the great
man does nothing more miraculous than just to use his own eyes; he
refuses to be dictated to by others as to what he should see and do,
and lo! the world looks at what he has done, and either rejects him
altogether (for a time), or says, "Here is a genius.  Let us make much
of him."

One thing is certain.  It was not by taking thought, by planning or
scheming, that John Constable made that sensation at the Salon of 1824.
It was born in him to be what he became--a painter of Nature.  How easy
and simple it seems.  Everybody paints Nature to-day; but in the early
years of last century one had to be a great original to break away from
tradition and from academic formulæ, and to paint--just Nature.

The awakening came to John Constable in 1802, when he was twenty-six
years of age.  In a letter to his friend Dunthorne, Constable wrote
from London:

"For the last two years I have been running after pictures and seeking
the truth at second hand ... I shall return to Bergholt, where I shall
endeavour to get a pure and unaffected manner of representing the
scenes that may employ me.  There is little or nothing in the
Exhibitions worth looking up to.  _There is room for a natural

A natural painter he became--the painter of England, of simple rural
scenes.  At forty-seven years of age he lamented that he had never
visited Italy, but the mood passed as quickly as it came, and he cries:
"No, but I was born to paint a happier land, my own dear old England."
And from his own dear old England he banished the brown tree.  But the
droll story of the Brown Tree deserves a new chapter.



"A constant communion with pictures, the tints of which are subdued by
time, no doubt tends to unfit the eye for the enjoyment of freshness."

So wrote the wise Leslie in a chapter narrating certain passages of art
talk between Constable and Sir George Beaumont, when the painter was
visiting the amiable baronet at Cole-Orton.  The modern world is a
little amused by Sir George Beaumont--collector, connoisseur, and
painter--who, in his own ripe person, precisely and accurately
exemplified Constable's criticism of certain French artists.  "They
study (and they are very laborious students) pictures only."  Sir
George loved art, as he understood the term, and it was not his fault
that he could not see eye to eye with the young vision of Constable.
Quite content and happy was Sir George; he did not wish to change.
Loved art?  He had a passion for art.  Did he not always carry with him
upon his journeys Claude's picture of "Hagar"?  In 1826 he presented
"Hagar," which is now catalogued under the title of "Landscape with
Figures," to the nation; but he felt so disconsolate without his adored
picture that he begged to have it returned to him for his life-time.
That was done, and on Sir George's death in 1828 his widow restored
"Hagar" to the National Gallery.  Study "Hagar," and you have the
measure of the art predilections of Sir George Beaumont, collector,
connoisseur, painter, patron, and friend of John Constable, and author
of the famous question, "Do you find it very difficult to determine
where to place your brown tree?"

Constable's answer is recorded.  "Not in the least, for I never put
such a thing into a picture."

Sir George did.  Observing the brown tree sprawling in the formal and
academic pictures he prized and copied, he reproduced it laboriously in
his own works.  Apparently it never occurred to him that those brown
trees may once have been green.

"Sir George," says Leslie, "seemed to consider the autumnal tints
necessary, at least to some part of a landscape."  And Leslie is the
authority for two oft-told stories about Gaspar Poussin and about the
Cremona fiddle.



National Gallery.

Painted in 1826, and presented to the National Gallery in 1837 by an
association of gentlemen, who purchased it of the painter's executors.
A typical work.  John Constable was pleased with his Cornfield.
Writing of it to Archdeacon Fisher, he said--"It is not neglected in
any part; the trees are more than usually studied, well defined as well
as the stems; they are shaken by a pleasant and healthful breeze at



Sir George having placed a small landscape by Gaspar Poussin on his
easel, close to a picture he was painting, said, "Now, if I can match
these tints I am sure to be right."

"But suppose," replied Constable, "Gaspar could rise from his grave, do
you think he would know his own picture in its present state? or if he
did, should we not find it difficult to persuade him that somebody had
not smeared tar or cart grease over its surface, and then wiped it
imperfectly off?"

The fiddle story can be told in fewer words.  Sir George having
recommended the colour of an old Cremona fiddle for the prevailing tone
of everything in Nature, Constable answered by laying an old fiddle on
the green lawn before the house.

Sir George Beaumont was one of the last of the servile disciples of
Claude Lorraine and the Poussins, who conjured their followers into
believing that a landscape must be composed in the grand or "classical"
manner, and must conform to certain academic rules.  Claude's drawings,
preserved in the British Museum, proclaim that he could be as frank,
delightful, and impulsive as Constable in his sketches; but when Claude
constructed a landscape of ruined temples and fatuous biblical or
legendary figures, the inspiration of his drawing usually evaporated.
Claude's genius remained, and there are pictures by him, notably "The
Enchanted Castle," that in their particular manner have never been
surpassed; but alas! it was not the genius that Sir George Beaumont
imitated, but Claude's mannerisms and limitations.

The stay-at-home Dutchmen who flooded the seventeenth century with
their simple, homely, and often beautiful landscapes had no attraction
for grandiose Sir George and his kin.  The genius of Watteau which
flashed into the eighteenth century, the commanding performances of
Richard Wilson and Gainsborough in landscape, had no influence upon the
practitioners of the grand manner.  And in truth those pioneers
suffered for their temerity.  Wilson, who never quite cast off the
classical mantle, accepted with gratitude, at the height of his fame,
the post of librarian to the Royal Academy.  Gainsborough would have
starved had he been obliged to depend upon landscape painting for a
living, and Constable would have been in financial straits had he been
obliged to depend for the support of his family entirely upon the sale
of his pictures.

Wilson died in 1782, Gainsborough in 1788, and J. R. Cozens, whom
Constable described as "the greatest genius who ever touched
landscape," in 1799; but the careers of these men cannot be said to
have influenced their landscape contemporaries.  While Wilson,
Gainsborough, and Cozens were still alive, certain boys were growing up
in England, who were destined to make the nineteenth century splendid
with their landscape performances.  What a galaxy of names!  Old Crome
and James Ward were born in 1769; Turner and Girtin in 1775; Constable
in 1776.  Cotman saw the light in 1782, the year of Wilson's death;
David Cox in 1783; Peter de Wint in 1784, and the short and brilliant
life of Bonington began in 1801.  But landscape painting was still, and
was to remain for long, the Cinderella of the arts.  In 1829 Cotman
wrote a letter beginning, "My eldest son is following the same
miserable profession."

Constable's British contemporaries being men of genius of various
degrees, men of individual vision, it is quite natural that his
influence upon them should have been almost negligible.  Turner, Old
Crome, and Bonington owed nothing to Constable; but in France it was
different.  In the early years of the nineteenth century when
Englishmen were producing magnificent work which was to bring them such
great posthumous fame and such small rewards during their lifetime,
landscape painting in France was still slumbering in classical
swathing-bands.  As if frightened out of originality by the horrors of
the French Revolution of 1789, the landscape painters of France for
thirty years and more remained steeped in the apathy of classicism.

David (1748-1825) dominated the French art world, and no mere landscape
painter was able to dispel the heavy tradition that David imposed in
historical painting.  True there were protestors, original men (there
always are), but they were powerless to stem the turgid stream.  There
was Paul Huet and there was Georges Michel, happy no doubt in their
work, but unfortunate in living before their time.  Michel, neglected,
misunderstood, was excluded from the Salon exhibitions after 1814, on
account of his revolutionary tendencies.  We note signs of the brown
tree obsession in Michel's spacious and simple landscapes, but he
painted the environs of Paris, and did not give a thought to theatrical
renderings of Plutarch, Theocritus, Ovid, or Virgil.

France was ripe for Constable at that memorable Salon of 1824, simple,
straight-seeing Constable, who painted his Suffolk parish, not the
tumbling ruins of Italy, and who showed that "the sun shines, that the
wind blows, that water wets, and that air and light are everywhere."
But Constable's influence on the French painters, although great, must
not be overstated.  Change was in the air.  Herald signs had not been
lacking of the rebirth of French landscape painting.  The French
critics of the Salons had already begun to complain of the stereotyped
classical ruins and brown-tree landscapes; they announced that they
were weary of "malarious lakes, desolate wastes, and terrible cliffs."
Joyfully they welcomed in the Salon of 1822 the brilliant water-colours
of Bonington, Copley Fielding, and other Englishmen, and then came 1824
with Constable showing that the bright, fresh colours were also
possible in oil, and that a fine picture could be made out of an
"unpicturesque locality," a lock, a cottage, a hay-wain, a cornfield,
quite as well as from a "Plague among the Philistines at Ashdod," or an
"Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba."

As has been already explained, Constable did not dream of the success
and fame that was in store for him in Paris.  "The Hay Wain" was
painted in 1821; he was then forty-five, and as will be seen from the
following letter written in 1822, he had not found art remunerative.

"I have some nibbles at my large picture of 'The Hay Wain' in the
British Gallery.  I have an offer of seventy pounds without the frame
to form part of an exhibition in Paris.  I hardly know what to do.  It
might promote my fame and procure me commissions, but it is the
property of my family; though I want money dreadfully; and, on this
subject, I must beg a great favour of you, indeed, I can do it of no
other person.  The loan of twenty pounds or thirty pounds would be of
the greatest use to me at this time, as painting these large pictures
has much impoverished me."

In 1824 the nibble became a bite.  "The Hay Wain" with the two other
pictures was sold "to a Frenchman" for two hundred and fifty pounds.
The Frenchman's object was to make a show of them in Paris.  He did so
to some purpose.  And it is odd to note that the name of this farseeing
Frenchman has never been disclosed.

Above "The Hay Wain" in the National Gallery hangs James Ward's fine
picture called "View of Harlech Castle and surrounding landscape."
That is the official title, but I suggest that the title should be,
"The End of the Brown Tree."  You will observe that the brown tree has
been cut down and is being hurried away in a cart drawn by four grey
horses.  I do not accuse the Director of the National Gallery of
joking; but I cannot think it was altogether without intention that, in
the rehanging of the room, James Ward's allegory of the end of the
Brown Tree should have been hung above Constable's "Hay Wain," the
pioneer picture of the new movement.



Constable had a happy, uneventful life and a quiet death.  A happy
life?  Yes.  For the loss of friends and the depression of spirits that
clouded his closing years are events that happen to not a few who have
lived the major portion of their lives pleasantly and successfully.
Practical, level-headed, industrious, there is no hint of the
aberrations or eccentricities of genius in the orderly and fruitful
sixty-one years of his existence, which began in 1776, and ended in

Probably the severest blow in his life was the death of his wife in
1828, leaving him with seven children.  It came, almost without
warning, the year after the family had settled so contentedly in Well
Walk, Hampstead.

"This house," he wrote, "is to my wife's heart's content; it is
situated on an eminence at the back of the spot in which you saw us,
and our little drawing-room commands a view unsurpassed in Europe, from
Westminster Abbey to Gravesend.  The dome of St Paul's in the air seems
to realise Michael Angelo's words on seeing the Pantheon; 'I will build
such a thing in the sky.'"  After his wife's death Constable returned
to his former residence in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square; but he
retained Well Walk, and often sojourned there.



National Gallery.

Painted in 1817.  Constable was then forty-one, a somewhat mature age
for a man to produce what may fairly be called his first important
work.  It is a picture of England--ripe, lush, carefully composed,
carefully executed, but fresh as are the meadows on the banks of the
Stour; and the sky, across which the large clouds are drifting, is



Probably the greatest surprise, and certainly one of the most
comforting episodes of his life, was the receipt of a legacy of twenty
thousand pounds on the death of his wife's father, which elicited the
remark that now he could "stand before a six-foot canvas with a mind at
ease, thank God!"

Constable developed slowly as a painter, but having once found himself
he strode steadily onward, knowing exactly what he meant to do, turning
neither to the right nor to the left, indifferent to tradition,
schools, and influences.  Consequently the earlier years of his life,
when he was breaking away from tradition and beginning to see things
with his own eyes are the more interesting.  He was born at East
Bergholt in Suffolk on 11th June 1776, the second son of Golding
Constable, owner of water and wind mills.  At the Dedham Grammar School
he was renowned for his penmanship, and before he left school, at
seventeen years of age, he had already shown a strong inclination
towards painting.  In this he was encouraged by his friend John
Dunthorne, plumber and glazier, a man of parts, who devoted his leisure
time to landscape painting.

Fate was complaisant to Constable.  Born in an opulent and wooded
quarter of Suffolk, on a spot overlooking the fertile valley of the
Stour, with a friend close at hand who loved Nature and painted her for
pleasure not for profit, can we wonder that, later in life, Constable
wrote enthusiastically and gratefully of "the scenes of my boyhood
which made me a painter."  A painter he was from the beginning, for his
father's proposal that he should take Orders was never really seriously
entertained, and the year that he spent as a miller was surely of more
service to him as a student of Nature than if he had spent the period
as a student in an art school.  As a miller, the "handsome miller" he
was called, he learnt at first hand the ways of winds, clouds, and
storms; in an art school he would have learned how his predecessors had
decided that antique statues should be drawn and "shaded."  Yes;
everything conspired to make John Constable "a natural painter."  The
art schools would serve him later, but that year as a miller watching
the skies, noting the winds, observing the growth of crops, and the
demeanour of trees, was the foundation of his originality.  He was but
sixteen--that impressionable period when everything is new, and the
eyes of body and soul absorb and retain.  In that fresh and impulsive
sketch called "Spring," now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, he
painted, later in life, one of the mills in which he worked, upon the
timbers of which he had carved the words "John Constable, 1792."  In
the second edition of his "Life," published in 1845, Leslie says that
the name and date, neatly carved with a penknife, "still remain."
Leslie also prints Constable's description of this "Spring" sketch
which was engraved by David Lucas.

"It may perhaps give some idea of one of those bright silvery days in
the spring, when at noon large garish clouds surcharged with hail or
sleet sweep with their broad shadows the fields, woods, and hills; and
by their depths enhance the value of the vivid greens and yellows so
peculiar to the season.  The _natural history_, if the expression may
be used, of the skies, which are so particularly marked in the hail
squalls at this time of the year, is this...."  Then follows a lengthy
and intimate study of _the natural history_ of the skies, showing what
stores of knowledge he had amassed during the year he worked as a
miller.  Is it exaggeration to describe that year as the most important
of his life.  It gave him the independent outlook, the rough intimacy
with fields and hedgerows under the influences of light and weather,
that new-old knowledge which so astonished the French artists at the
Salon of 1824.  Constable began with the skies of Nature, he went on to
study the skies of Claude, Ruysdael, and other masters; but he returned
to the skies and pastures of Nature, never to leave them again.


PLATE V.--DEDHAM MILL.  Victoria and Albert Museum.

Painted in 1820, three years after "Flatford Mill."  Constable's father
was the owner of the watermills at Flatford and Dedham.  Many years
before the date of this picture, Constable, writing of a landscape of
Dedham by an acquaintance, said--"It is very well painted, and there is
plenty of light without any light at all."  In "Dedham Mill," he
progresses in his purpose to infuse true light into his pictures.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--DEDHAM MILL.]


Here is a further episode of Constable's youth before he visited
London, another example of the luck, there is no other word for it,
that attended his art beginnings.  The Dowager Lady Beaumont lived at
Dedham, where Golding Constable owned a water-mill, and as the families
were friendly, Constable early made the acquaintance of her son, Sir
George Beaumont, who was twenty-three years his senior.  He had already
approved of some copies made by the youth in pen and ink after
Dorigny's engravings of the cartoons of Raphael, and he had showed him
the "Hagar" by Claude, already mentioned, which Sir George always
carried about with him when he travelled.  What was still more
important, he displayed before his protegé thirty water-colours by
Girtin.  The Claude and the array of Girtins produced an enormous
impression upon young Constable.  In Claude he made acquaintance with
an old master, who had been the first to paint pure landscape in the
approved grand or classical manner; in Girtin was revealed to him the
harbinger of a new epoch in landscape painting, the young Girtin,
friend and fellow-student of Turner, who died in 1802 at the age of
twenty-seven, and of whom Turner said--"Had Girtin lived, I should have

In 1795 Constable made a tentative visit to London, "for the purpose of
ascertaining what might be his chance of success as a painter."  He
carried with him a letter to Joseph Farrington, pupil of Richard
Wilson, who predicted that "his style of landscape would one day form a
distinct feature in the art."  Constable also made the acquaintance of
John Thomas Smith, the engraver, known as "Antiquity Smith," who gave
him the following excellent advice, which shows that the revolt against
the academic landscape had already begun in England:

"Do not," said "Antiquity Smith," "set about inventing figures for a
landscape taken from Nature; for you cannot remain an hour in any spot,
however solitary, without the appearance of some living thing that will
in all probability accord better with the scene and time of day than
will any invention of your own."

That visit to London "for the purpose of ascertaining what might be his
chance of success as a painter," would seem to have been encouraging
neither to himself nor to his parents.  No immediate answer was
forthcoming, and while the decision was in abeyance his time was
divided between London and Bergholt.  It is on record that he worked
hard: that he studied Leonardo's _Treatise on Painting_; that he read
Hessner's _Essay on Landscape_; and that he painted two pictures--"A
Chymist" and "An Alchymist"--of very little merit.  Gradually it seems
to have been recognised that he was to become not a painter, but a
clerk in his father's counting-house.  In 1797, at the age of
twenty-one, young Constable wrote to "Antiquity Smith":

"I must now take your advice and attend to my father's business ... now
I see plainly it will be my lot to walk through life in a path contrary
to that in which my inclination would lead me."  Poor John!  Not even a
peep of the skies from the windmill, merely a stool in the

This threat of the counting-house stool seems to have been only a
temporary menace.  His biographer dwells very briefly on those dark
disillusioned days.  Suddenly the clouds lift, and in 1799 we find him
admitted a student of the Royal Academy Schools.  His biographer breaks
the news dramatically, with the statement--"in the year 1799 he had
resumed the pencil, not again to lay it aside."  No record is given of
the period he presumably passed in his father's counting-house.  We
know only that at twenty-three years of age he attained his heart's
desire.  The following passage from a letter written to Dunthorne, on
4th February 1799, inaugurates Constable's career as a painter:

"I am now comfortably settled in Cecil Street, Strand, Number
twenty-three.  I shall begin painting as soon as I have the loan of a
sweet little picture by Jacob Ruysdael to copy."  No doubt he learned
much from copying Ruysdael and other masters, but Nature was his real
tutor.  Later in the year he writes from Ipswich:

"It is a most delightful country for a painter.  I fancy I see
Gainsborough in every hedge and hollow tree."  And in 1802 he makes
that memorable communication by letter to Dunthorne after a visit to
Sir George Beaumont's pictures, to which reference has already been

"For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking
the truth at second hand ... I shall return to Bergholt, where I shall
endeavour to get a pure and unaffected manner of representing the
scenes that may employ me ... _There is room for a natural painter_.
The great vice of the day is _bravura_, an attempt to do something
beyond the truth."

Constable had now thirty-five years of life before him, through which
he worked unwearyingly, joyfully, to become a natural painter.
Henceforth he was the interpreter of English "cultivated
scenery"--pastures and the skies, trees and cottages, the farm-hand,
the farm-waggon, the farm-horse, the fugitive rain and the wind that
passes.  Mountains, the sea, the piled up majestic picturesqueness of
Nature did not attract him.  In brain, heart, and vision he was
essential pastoral England, and never did he better express his
innermost feeling than when he wrote:

"I love every stile and stump and lane in the village; as long as I am
able to hold a brush, I shall never cease to paint them."

The life of a painter is not usually exciting, and Constable's life was
no exception,  Here are a few dates.  In 1802, at the age of
twenty-six, he exhibited his first picture, under the unambitious title
"A Landscape," at the Royal Academy; in 1816, at forty, he married; in
1819, at forty-three, he was elected A.R.A.; in 1824, his "Hay Wain"
was exhibited at the Salon; in 1828 his wife died; in 1829, at
fifty-three, he was elected R.A., and in 1837 he died.  The end was
sudden.  He had been at work during the day on his last picture of
"Arundel Mill and Castle," and although his friends noticed that he was
not looking well, he was able to go out that evening on an errand
connected with the Artists' Benevolent Fund.  He retired to bed about
nine o'clock, read as was his custom, and when the servant removed the
candle by which he had been reading, he was asleep.  Later he awoke in
great pain, and died within an hour.  The post-mortem revealed no
indications of disease, and the extreme pain, says Leslie, from which
Constable suffered and died could only be traced to indigestion.  The
vault in the south-east corner of the churchyard at Hampstead where his
wife had been buried, and from the shock of whose death he never quite
recovered, was opened, and he was laid by her side.

His art was sane and healthy, but his letters show that during the
latter part of his life he suffered from depression and morbid fancies.

"All my indispositions," he wrote to Fisher, "have their source in my
mind.  It is when I am restless and unhappy that I become susceptible
of cold, damp, heats, and such nonsense."  And, to sum up, Leslie
recalls a passage written by Constable ten years before his death, in
which, after speaking of having removed his family to Hampstead, he
says: "I could gladly exclaim, here let me take my everlasting rest."

But his life was an extremely happy one on the whole; the legacies he
received, placed him in comfortable circumstances, and if, outside his
own fraternity, his art was but little encouraged, that was the lot of
all landscape painters.  It is said that he was nearly forty before he
sold a landscape beyond the circle of his relatives and personal
friends.  This was probably the "Ploughing Scene in Suffolk," bought
from the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1814 by Mr Allnutt.  But to set
against this tardy recognition, there was the splendour of the
acknowledgments that came later--his gold medal at the 1824 Salon, and
the gold medal at Lille in 1825 for his "White Horse."  The priced
catalogue of the sale of his pictures and sketches after his death
shows how enormously the appreciation of Constable has increased.  The
two magnificent studies for "The Hay Wain" and "The Leaping Horse" now
at the Victoria and Albert Museum, were sold in one lot for fourteen
pounds ten shillings; "Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Garden,"
went for sixty-four pounds one shilling, and "The Opening of Waterloo
Bridge" for sixty-three pounds.

Constable fell under the ban of Ruskin--unjustly, "I have never seen
any work of his in which there were signs of his being able to draw" is
the opening of an oft-quoted passage; but when _Modern Painters_ was
being written, as Mr Sturge Henderson points out, the magnificent
collection of Constable's tree studies and sketches, now at South
Kensington, were still in private hands.  Ruskin could never have
taunted Constable with not being able to draw had he examined those
studies.  Although not a great draughtsman he was certainly a
conscientious, competent, and life-long student of drawing.

Constable has now his assured high place in British art.  So valuable
have his paintings become, that he has long been a prey to the forger
and the clever copyist.  Mr C. J. Holmes, in his exhaustive and
discriminating work on Constable, devotes four pages to an examination
of the methods of the forgers.  In another appendix he prints a
chronological list of Constable's chief pictures and sketches, from
1795, the year of his earliest dated work, "A Study after Claude," to
the "Arundel Mill and Castle," exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837.
At the beginning of the record of each year's work there is a line
giving the "Places Visited" by Constable during the year.  These bare
records are like so many windows opening to the country places which
Constable loved, where he spent joyous, enthusiastic days; for
Constable was never so happy as when he stood with brushes and palette
face to face with Nature.  Turner was a world traveller--the world of
Europe.  Constable was a home traveller--the homely stiles, stumps, and
lanes of the village.  What a vista the following mere record of the
Places Visited in 1823 gives: London, Southgate, Suffolk, Salisbury,
Gillingham, Sherbourne, Fonthill, Cole-Orton.  Can you not see him
drawing from each place fresh and dewy inspiration?  Not "truth at
second-hand": truth direct from the source.  And does not the heart
respond to Constable's generous enthusiasm for his great contemporary.
Here is his testimony to Turner's contributions to the Royal Academy
Exhibition of 1828:

"Turner has some golden visions, glorious and beautiful.  They are only
visions, but still, they are art, and one could live and die with such


PLATE VI.--A COUNTRY LANE.  National Gallery.

This sketch probably served as the motive for the picture of "The
Cornfield."  The sobriety of the work places it in a category between
the careful construction of the Exhibition pictures and the impetuosity
of most of the sketches.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.--A COUNTRY LANE.]




Constable exhibited one hundred and four works at the Royal Academy.
In addition to these and other paintings, he produced many brilliant
sketches and a number of drawings.  Like Turner, his achievements may
be exhaustively studied in public Exhibitions in London, and as with
Turner, the difficulty is where to begin.  At the National Gallery
there is a wall composed, with one exception, entirely of his works;
the Victoria and Albert Museum contains a room, or rather a hall of his
pictures, sketches, and studies, and he is also represented at the Tate
and Diploma Galleries.  Some of the examples were bequeathed to the
nation by his last surviving daughter, Miss Isabel Constable, in 1888.
Two years later Henry Vaughan bequeathed a number of works, including
"The Hay Wain."

The casual visitor finds little emotional excitement, and no literary
interest in these honest interpretations of English scenery.  Constable
was never dramatic ("The Opening of Waterloo Bridge" may be counted an
exception) or idealistic like Turner.  From a scenic point of view,
"The Hay Wain" is dull compared with "Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus," and
knowledge of art history is not so widely diffused as to give to "The
Hay Wain" the interest it should command as a pioneer picture in modern
landscape.  Constable does not thrill.  Roast beef does not thrill, but
it is wholesome and life-communicating.  Constable was a prosaic man of
genius.  Once he said that "painting is another word for feeling," but
he also made that most characteristic retort to Blake, who, when
looking through one of Constable's sketch-books, exclaimed on seeing a
drawing of fir-trees on Hampstead Heath--"Why, this is not drawing, but
inspiration."  To which Constable quietly replied--"I meant it for

Constable never desired to thrill; his ambition was merely to be a
natural painter, and he would probably not have been in the least
distressed at the episode related by Mr Sturge Henderson in his
biography.  An elegant and attractive American woman after examining
"The Glebe Farm" in the National Gallery, remarked to her son, a
typical undergraduate: "Does this thrill you?"  "Not the least in the
world," replied the son, and they passed on.  No doubt these cultured
moderns desired in a painting the "beauty touched with strangeness,"
that Botticelli and Piero della Francesca offer: there is no place in
such æsthetic lives for the familiarity touched with honesty of John
Constable.  To-day his innovations--his attempts to represent the
vibration of light, his spots and splashes of colour to counterfeit the
sun glitter, his touches and scrapings laid on with the palette knife
to obtain force and brightness--have become a commonplace.

Constable, being a pioneer, was accustomed to misunderstanding and also
to badinage.  His breezy and showery effects, blowing wind, rustling
grasses, waving trees, and wet rain, were occasionally the subjects of
banter from his fellow Academicians and others.  Fuseli, Professor of
Painting, a bad artist, but a good joker, was once seen to open his
umbrella as he entered the Exhibition.

"What are you doing with your umbrella up?" asked a friend.

"Oh," replied Fuseli, "I am going to look at Mr Constable's pictures!"

That was really a great compliment, and I may cap the story by quoting
the brief, bald, criticism of Sir William Beechy on Constable's
"Salisbury from the Meadows."

"Why, d--n it, Constable, what a d----d fine picture you are making;
but you look d----d ill, and you have got a d----d bad cold."

No.  Constable of the "unpicturesque localities" does not thrill, and
his pictures evoke a meditative rather than an ecstatic mood.  In his
large works one never finds the haunting charm of a fine Corot, the
majesty of a Rousseau, or the clarity of light and colour of a
Harpigny.  He did not, except in rare cases, select from the abundance
of Nature; he was content with facts as he saw them, and he laboured at
his surfaces until sometimes one can hardly disentangle the incidents
for the paint in which they are enveloped.  "The Leaping Horse," in the
Diploma Gallery, is a magnificent performance in picture-making but it
is heavy--heavy as a mid-day English Sunday dinner.  It has force,
strength, knowledge, vigour, but little beauty, except perhaps in the
sweep of sky; and certainly no strangeness.  The signs of labour are
written all over it; you feel that he has carefully and conscientiously
composed this picture for an exhibition, and that in the long labour he
has lost the early impulse and freshness of the _pensée mère_.  To see
how much he lost you have only to study the large sketch for "The
Leaping Horse," in the Victoria and Albert Museum, finer, bolder, much
more instinct with life and inspiration than the finished production.
Which brings me to the two great divisions of Constable's
life-work--the sketches, which we are told he did not regard as
"serious," and the finished pictures.

His sketches are innumerable, and all, or at any rate the great
majority of them possess the impulse, the lyrical note, so often
lacking in his larger canvases.  Of course, this criticism applies to
all painters.  The sketch is made for love, the picture for an
Exhibition.  What could be more luminously spacious, unworried and
unfettered by the convention of picture-making than his small
oil-sketch of "Harwich: Sea and Lighthouse," in the Tate Gallery, of
which there is a pencil sketch at South Kensington, dated 1815.  Here
is the first impression caught and transferred to canvas while the
blood was still hot, the pulse quick, and the eyes eager to record this
scene of desolate beauty, vast sky, rippling ocean, bare foreshore,
lonely lighthouse, and one figure in the foreground, with notes of
almost indistinguishable figures beyond the lighthouse, and a few
remote sails upon the sea.  It has not the learning of "The Hay Wain"
or "The Leaping Horse," and the steady flame of Constable's fame would
probably long ago have been extinguished had it depended for existence
entirely upon his sketches; but, speaking for myself, it is to his
sketches that I go for joy.  Verily this student of Nature, who
disliked autumn and loved spring; who painted summer, "its breezes, its
heat, its heavy colouring," its gusts of winds, its sudden storms;
verily he lives in our hearts wherever our eyes meet his sketches.
They induce, they compel one to linger in such places as the dark
staircase of the Diploma Gallery, in Burlington House, the walls of
which sing out with two groups of his sketches, significant moments
seen in Nature.  That beach and sea; the rain-storm streaming down the
canvas; those floating clouds, only the clouds and the sky visible;
that boat with the red sail labouring in the heavy water--they are
essential Constable.  And what an object lesson in the making of a
landscape painter is provided by the hall of drawings, pictures, and
sketches at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  They are a standing
refutation of Ruskin's words--"I have never seen any work of his in
which there were signs of his being able to draw, and hence the most
necessary details are painted by him insufficiently."  Constable was
not an inspired draughtsman; but that he worked hard at drawing, and
that he achieved considerable mastery with his pencil is abundantly
testified by the many examples at South Kensington, notably, "The Study
of Trees at Hampstead," the "Windsor Castle from the River," the "Cart
and Horses," and above all the magnificent and minute "Stem of an Elm
Tree," none of which, as has already been noted, Ruskin had ever seen.
These are all interesting, almost meticulously conscientious, but for
John Constable in more daring mood, carried away by the riot of the
scene, we must turn to such sketches as the chaotic cloud forms of
"Weymouth Bay," and the splashy, opulent splendour of the oil sketch
called "View on the Stour."  Or to the sketches that emerge, modestly
but clamantly, from the large works on the wall devoted to his
achievement at the National Gallery, which contains no fewer than
twenty-two examples by Constable.  One of them, "A Country Lane,"
illustrated in these pages, served as a motive for his picture of "The
Cornfield."  The sobriety and somewhat heavy handling of this oil
sketch places it in a category between the careful construction of the
Exhibition pictures, and the impetuosity of most of the sketches.  But
the atmospheric "Salisbury" that hangs below, to the left of "A Country
Lane," which is a preliminary study without the rainbow for the picture
of "Salisbury from the Meadows," has all the quick, almost feverish
informality of his best sketches.  It is larger than the sketches, but
shows no anxiety.  The hand following the eye stopped when the vision
of the eye was recorded, when all the hurry of the wet glitter of the
scene had been stated in broken pigment.  As a contrast, examine "A
Cornfield with Figures," a tranquilly beautiful suggestion of late
summer--fifteen and a half inches by nine and a half--thinly painted
rain-clouds floating past, the heat haze hovering in the field of corn
partly reaped and stocked.  The vivid, "Summer Afternoon after a
Shower," hanging near by has an interest apart from its spontaneity and
vigour.  It is precisely what it looks, the recollection of a summer
shower, noted in an ecstatic moment, and recorded at a sitting.  The
story is told by Leslie--how Constable was travelling by coach either
to or from Brighton; how at Redhill he saw this effect; how he
treasured the memory of it until the coach reached its destination, and
how "immediately on alighting," he made this sketch of one wild moment
snatched from Nature.



Victoria and Albert Museum.

In the interval between the painting of "The Hay Wain" (1821) and its
exhibition in Paris (1824), Constable produced "Salisbury Cathedral
from the Bishop's Garden," wherein he attempted to represent the
glitter of sunlight by spots of pure pigment, which his friends called
"Constable's snow."



It was this constant study of Nature that distinguished Constable from
those of his academic predecessors and contemporaries who studied only
the works of other painters.  It was in this solitary communion with
Nature that Constable showed the originality of his genius.  How
thorough he was.  He was not content to note only what his eyes saw,
but he also observed and recorded the time of day and the direction of
the wind.

"Twenty of Constable's studies of skies made during this season (1822)
are in my possession," says Leslie, "and there is but one among them in
which a vestige of landscape is introduced.  They are painted in oil,
on large sheets of thick paper, and all dated, with the time of day,
the direction of the wind, and other memoranda on their backs.  On one,
for instance, is written:

'Fifth of September 1822.  Ten o'clock morning, looking south-east,
brisk wind at west.  Very bright and fresh, grey clouds running fast
over a yellow bed, about half-way in the sky.'"

That is the real Constable speaking, the Constable who had "found
himself."  But we are never wholly emancipated from tradition, and
knowing the difficulties of his craft he retained his admiration for
the great ones among his predecessors.  In 1824, he wrote: "I looked
into Angerstein's the other day; how paramount is Claude..."

Maybe.  But Claude had to be left alone.  Constable knew that in his
heart, and, as he advanced in wisdom, art at second-hand held him less
and less, and art at first hand, which is Nature, more and more.  He
learnt to rely upon his eyes and the cunning of his hand.  And when he
"thanked Heaven he had no imagination," there was more in that
utterance than appears on the surface.



In one of his letters, dated 1799, Constable refers to "a sweet little
picture by Jacob Ruysdael I am copying."  He was then twenty-three
years of age, a devoted admirer and student of his predecessors in
landscape, and able, strange as it may seem to us, to call a Ruysdael
sweet.  In the style of the old masters he continued working until he
was nearly forty, learning from them how to construct a picture, and
"acquiring execution" as he expressed it.  A methodical man was John
Constable, a builder who spared no trouble to make his foundations
sound; but during those years of spade work in his voluntary
apprenticeship, he never disregarded his determination to become a
natural painter.  It was his custom to study and copy the old masters
during his sojourn in London, but to paint in his own original way,
directly from Nature and in the open air, when in the country.  An
early result of "being himself" during holiday time was the "Dedham
Vale" oil sketch of 1802, now at South Kensington, a careful, reposeful
picture with trees rising formally at the right, and the church tower
visible just beyond the winding river.  He utilised this sketch for the
large picture exhibited, under the same title, in 1828.  The influence
of other painters such as the Dutch landscape men, Gainsborough and
Girtin, may be traced in many of his pictures produced in the opening
years of the nineteenth century when he was "acquiring the execution"
on which he based his originality.  He also painted portraits; indeed
at one time he proposed to live by portrait painting.  During 1807 and
the next few years he produced several, notably Mr Charles Lloyd of
Birmingham and his wife, which Mr C. J. Holmes describes as "amateurish
and uncertain in drawing and execution."  But there was nothing
amateurish or uncertain about the "Portrait of a Boy," which I have
lately seen, a ruddy country boy, clad in pretty town-like clothes, an
honest, direct, rich piece of work, without a hint of affectation, just
the vision of the eye set down straightforwardly.  And the foxgloves
that stand growing by the boy's right hand are painted as honestly as
the striped pantaloons that this open-air boy wears.  Just the kind of
portrait that John Constable would have painted.  He also produced two
altarpieces--in 1804, a "Christ Blessing Little Children" at Brantham
Church, Suffolk; and in 1809, a "Christ Blessing the Elements" at
Nayland Church.

Eight years later, in 1817, he painted "Flatford Mill on the Stour,"
No. 1273 in the National Gallery, which forms one of our illustrations.
Constable was then forty-one, a somewhat mature age for a man to
produce what may fairly be called his first important picture.  But all
his past life had been a preparation for this photographic, pleasant
transcript of English scenery.  Nothing is left to the imagination,
everything is stated, every inch of canvas is painted with equal force,
yet what an advance it is upon most of the classical landscapes then in
vogue.  It is a picture of England, ripe, lush, carefully composed,
carefully executed, but fresh as are the meadows on the banks of the
Stour; and the sky across which the large clouds are drifting is sunny.
This picture was bought in at the Constable sale, held the year after
his death, in 1838, for the very modest sum of thirty-three guineas.

"The White Horse," called also "A Scene on the River Stour," exhibited
at the Royal Academy in 1819, which is now in the possession of Mr
Pierpont Morgan, was one of Constable's early successes.  It attracted
"more attention than anything he had before exhibited," and was bought
for one hundred guineas, "exclusive of the frame," by Archdeacon
Fisher, who wrote on 27th April:--"'The White Horse' has arrived; it is
hung on a level with the eye, the frame resting on the ogee moulding in
a western side light, right for the light in the picture.  It looks
magnificently."  "The White Horse" realised one hundred and fifty
guineas at the Constable sale, and in 1894, fifty-six years later, was
bought by Messrs Agnew for six thousand two hundred guineas.

With "The White Horse" Constable also sent to the British Gallery a
picture called "The Mill," which is supposed to be identical with the
"Dedham Mill, Essex," at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  1819 was a
successful year for Constable, a golden year.  He was summoned to
Bergholt to receive the four thousand pounds he had inherited from his
father; in this year Mrs Constable also inherited four thousand pounds;
and he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.  It was in this
year while at Bergholt that he wrote to his wife from a grateful and
overflowing heart a letter of which the following is an
extract:--"Everything seems full of blossom of some kind, and at every
step I take, and on whatever subject I turn my eyes, that sublime
expression of the Scriptures, 'I am the resurrection and the life,'
seems as if uttered near me."  There spoke the true landscape painter,
the man of deep feeling, conscious that in his painting he was
interpreting God's handiwork, and expressing in his chosen medium the
miracle of growth, the eternal movement of Nature from birth to
re-birth.  When standing in that hall at the Victoria and Albert Museum
devoted to his achievement--growth, growth, growth--from pencil sketch
to completed picture, there are moments when those words of his seem
uttered near to us.

"Dedham Mill" may look to our spoilt modern eyes a little tame, but
detach yourself from the present, drift into harmony with the picture,
and you may perhaps invoke the spirit of the dead man who saw temperate
beauty in this scene of his boyhood, and who tried to state his love
and gratitude laboriously with paint and brushes--poor tools to express
the living light and life of Nature.

Two years later, in 1821, at the age of forty-five, he painted "The Hay
Wain," to which I have referred at length in the opening chapter.
Perhaps some day when the re-organisation of the National Collections
is complete, it will be found possible to hang the brilliant full-sized
sketch of "The Hay Wain" now at South Kensington alongside the finished
picture in the National Gallery.  In the rough magnificent sketch you
will observe that he had already begun to use the palette-knife freely
in putting on the colour, a practice to which he became more and more



National Gallery.

A preliminary study, without the rainbow, for the large picture of
"Salisbury from the Meadows," exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1831.
It is larger than his usual sketches, but shows no anxiety.  The hand
following the eye stopped when the vision of the eye was recorded, when
all the hurry of the wet glitter of the scene had been stated in broken

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.--SALISBURY.]


"The Hay Wain" established his fame; but Constable was not the man to
sit down under success and repeat his triumphs in one particular
method.  In the interval between the painting of "The Hay Wain" and its
exhibition in Paris, he produced "Salisbury from the Bishop's Garden,"
now in the South Kensington collection, wherein he attempted to
represent the glitter of sunlight by spots of pure pigment which his
friends called "Constable's snow."  To us, accustomed to modern
pictures of sunlight, the "spots and scumbles of pure pigment" in
"Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Garden" are hardly noticeable,
but in 1823 they were an innovation, although not altogether a new
discovery.  Pinturicchio, in his frescoes in the library of Siena
Cathedral, experimented in pointillism, and you may trace it, too, in
some of the pictures by Vermeer of Delft.  "Salisbury from the Bishop's
Garden" gave Constable considerable trouble.  He was ill and his
children were ill.  "What with anxiety, watching, nursing, and my own
indisposition, I have not see the face of my easel since Christmas, and
it is not the least of my troubles that the good Bishop's picture is
not yet fit to be seen."  Later he describes "Salisbury from the
Bishop's Garden" as "the most difficult subject in landscape I ever had
upon my easel," adding that it "looks uncommonly well," and that "I
have not flinched at the windows, buttresses, etc., but I have still
kept to my grand organ colour, and have, as usual, made my escape in
the evanescence of the Chiaroscuro."

"The Lock," another of his well-known pictures, was purchased from the
Royal Academy Exhibition of 1824 by Mr Morrison for "one hundred and
fifty guineas, including the frame."  The superb oil sketch for "The
Lock" was sold at Christie's in 1901 for nineteen hundred guineas.  It
is an upright picture of sunshine and gusty wind, and represents a
lock-keeper opening the gates for the passage of a boat.  "My 'Lock'"
wrote Constable to Fisher, "is liked at the Academy, and indeed it
forms a decided feature, and its light cannot be put out, because it is
the light of Nature, the mother of all that is valuable in poetry,
painting, or anything else where an appeal to the soul is required....
But my execution annoys most of them, and all the scholastic ones.
Perhaps the sacrifices I make for lightness and brightness are too
great, but these things are the essence of landscape, and my extreme is
better than white-lead and oil, and dado painting."  Probably no other
landscape painter has expressed the intention of his art as clearly in
writing as with his brushes.  Light!  The light of Nature!  The mother
of all that is valuable in painting!  That was Constable's secret--the
knowledge of light, a secret that was hidden from the eyes of worthy
Sir George Beaumont.

"The Leaping Horse" of 1825, to which reference has already been made,
called by some his "grandest painting," reposes in the Diploma Gallery
at Burlington House.  Several changes were made in the picture after
its exhibition at the Royal Academy, which the curious can verify by a
study of the full-sized sketch at South Kensington.  From this year
onward the movement of Nature and the brilliancy of objects in sunlight
intrigued him more and more, although his passion for light never
reached the white-hot fervour of Turner in his latter years.  For
Turner the sunrise, a world almost too beautiful and evanescent to be
real; for Constable the noonday glow, the still heat haze, seen between
cool, dark trees, hovering over a field of ripe corn, as in "The
Cornfield," painted when he was fifty--a typical Constable.  Constable
was pleased with "The Cornfield."  Writing of it to Fisher he said: "It
is not neglected in any part; the trees are more than usually studied,
well defined as well as the stems; they are shaken by a pleasant and
healthful breeze at noon

        'While now a fresher gale
  Sweeping with shadowy gusts the fields of corn....'"

This picture, perhaps the best known and most popular of his works, was
presented to the National Gallery in 1837, by an association of
gentlemen, who purchased it of the painter's executors.  Some of them
wished to substitute for this gift the fine "Salisbury Cathedral from
the Meadows" with the rainbow, of which the "Salisbury," No. 1814, in
the National Gallery, is a study, but "the boldness of its execution"
we are told "stood in its way," and the "Cornfield" was purchased
instead.  The association of gentlemen need not have been apprehensive
that the "boldness of the execution" of "Salisbury from the Meadows"
would have frightened succeeding generations.  The Munich Secessionists
would call it commonplace, and the most old-fashioned member of the
selecting committee of a current Royal Academy Exhibition would see in
it only a fine picture, forcibly painted but too insistent on detail.
The landscape point of view has changed since 1837.

The magnificent "Opening of Waterloo Bridge" which, to those who had
not seen it in Sir Charles Tennant's collection, came as a revelation
when shown at the Old Masters' Exhibition, gave Constable continuous
trouble and anxiety.  He was years over it, and "he indulged in the
vagaries of the palette-knife to an excess."  It was not understood: it
was not liked.  "Very unfinished, sir," was the comment of his friend,
Thomas Stothard, R.A.; and, says Leslie, "the picture was generally
pronounced a failure."  This brilliant presentation of the King
embarking at Whitehall stairs, the water dancing, the air fluttering
with gay banners and the sails of bright and sumptuous barges, was hung
next to a grey sea-piece by Turner, who promptly placed a bright spot
of red lead in the foreground of his own grey picture.  The vivacity of
Constable's river fete lost something by that spot of vivid red.
"Turner has been here and fired a gun," said Constable.  The flash
remained, although "in the last moments allowed for painting, Turner
glazed the scarlet seal he had put upon his picture, and shaped it into
a buoy."  Considerable doubt has been thrown on Leslie's statement
"that soon after Constable's death the picture was toned to the
aristocratic taste of the period by a coat of blacking."  The picture
bears no trace of a coat of mourning.

In the somewhat solemn and simple "Valley Farm," painted in 1835, two
years before his death, Constable returned to the scenes of his
boyhood, to Willy Lett's house on the bank of the Stour.  His hand and
eye have lost something of their grip and freshness, but his purpose is
as firm as ever.  "I have preserved God Almighty's daylight," he wrote,
"which is enjoyed by all mankind, excepting only the lovers of old
dirty canvas, perished pictures at a thousand guineas each, cart
grease, tar, and snuff of candle."  The old Adam, you perceive, was
still strong in him.

"The Cenotaph," now in the National Gallery, was exhibited in the Royal
Academy of 1836--the subject being the cenotaph erected by Sir George
Beaumont in memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds, a tribute of affection and
respect.  It is somewhat heavy in treatment.  Did Constable, I wonder,
realise that his work was nearly done?  Was the uninspiriting
"Cenotaph" in his mind when, in the autumn of this year, he wrote so
generously about the pictures that his great contemporary was
exhibiting:--"Turner has outdone himself; he seems to paint with tinted
steam, so evanescent and so airy."

Constable's last work was "Arundel Mill and Castle," upon which he was
engaged on the day of his death, 31st March 1837.

His pictures are familiar to many who have not seen all the originals,
through David Lucas's mezzotints.  The first series of twenty
mezzotints was published in 1833 under the title, "Various Subjects of
Landscape, characteristic of English Scenery, principally intended to
display the Phenomena of the Chiar'oscuro of Nature."  Constable
devoted much attention to the enterprise during the remainder of his
life, inspired to make it as fine as possible by the example of
Claude's "Liber Veritatis" and Turner's "Liber Studiorum."  But its
"duration, its expense, its hopelessness of remuneration" oppressed
him.  "It harasses my days and disturbs my rest at nights" he wrote in
1831.  Constable took things hardly, very hardly, after his wife's
death in 1828.



The personality of Constable was not romantic.  In writing of him one
has no moods of wonderment or bafflement, and the pen is not tempted to
flights of wonder or fancy.  The life of Turner might inspire a poem;
but plain prose is the only vehicle for a consideration of the life of
Constable.  He was a sane, level-headed man compact of common-sense and
practicality, a man of one great, embracive idea: that having studied
the science of picture-making from the earlier masters, the landscape
painter must learn from Nature and not from the derivative pictures of
his contemporaries.  Constable pursued that course with the
single-heartedness of a man who devotes his life to some great
commercial undertaking.  Indeed the portraits of Constable might
represent a prosperous and cultured banker, especially those of his
later years, were it not for the full, observant eye that you feel
surveys a wider domain than Lombard Street.  Religious in the true
sense, dutiful, humble before the mysteries of things; old-fashioned in
the true sense, a lover and a quoter of good poetry and of the Bible,
he had on occasion a sharp and shrewd tongue, but the sting was salved
by the absolute sincerity of his intention.  Leslie devotes
considerable space to a record of Constable's opinions and sayings,
many of which have been quoted in these pages.  Of a certain
contemporary he said--"More over-bearing meekness I never met with in
any one man."  Of his own pictures he said--"They will never be
popular, for they have no handling.  But I do not see any handling in

Here is a saying about his art which sums up the whole tendency of his
life--"Whatever may be thought of my art, it is my own; and I would
rather possess a freehold, though but a cottage, than live in a palace
belonging to another."  And here is his comment on the unintelligent
connoisseurship of his time--"The old rubbish of art, the musty,
commonplace, wretched pictures which gentlemen collect, hang up, and
display to their friends, may be compared to Shakespeare's--

  'Beggarly account of empty boxes,
  Alligators stuffed,' etc.

Nature is anything but this, either in poetry, painting, or in the

The lectures on Landscape Painting that he delivered at the Royal
Institution in Albemarle Street, at the Hampstead Assembly Rooms, and
at Worcester were never written, although an abstract of the first was
found among his papers.  He spoke from brief notes and made much use of
a number of copies and engravings affixed to the walls.  The notes
taken by Leslie and embodied in his _Life of Constable_ are the only
record we have apart from the abstract of the first lecture.  The
belittlers of Claude should make a note of Constable's idolatry for
him:--"In Claude's landscape all is lovely--all amiable--all is amenity
and repose;--the calm sunshine of the heart.  He carried landscape,
indeed, to perfection, that is, human perfection."  Constable selected
four works as marking four memorable points in the history of
landscape--Titian's "Peter Martyr," Poussin's "Deluge," Rubens'
"Rainbow," and Rembrandt's "Mill."  In the choice of the Rubens and the
Rembrandt everybody must concur.  As Constable never visited Italy he
can only have known the "Peter Martyr" from engravings.  It was
destroyed by fire in 1867, but a copy exists at S. Giovanni Paolo in
Venice.  Constable had the courage of his opinions, and of all his
opinions the most astonishing is his strong disapproval of a national
collection of pictures.  In 1822 he wrote--"should there be a National
Gallery (which is talked of) there will be an end of the art in poor
old England, and she will become, in all that relates to painting, as
much a nonentity as every other country that has one.  The reason is
plain; the manufacturers of pictures are then made the criterions of
perfection, instead of Nature."

As a lecturer Constable seems to have relied in a great measure on the
inspiration of the moment.  Leslie also records the charm of a most
agreeable voice, although pitched somewhat too low, and the play of his
very expressive countenance.  His survey of the history of landscape
painting closed with an eulogy of Wilson, Gainsborough, Cozens, and
Girtin, and I may close with a brief passage, essential Constable, from
the lecture delivered at Hampstead on 25th July 1836.  "The landscape
painter must walk in the fields with a humble mind.  No arrogant man
was ever permitted to see Nature in all her beauty.  If I may be
allowed to use a very solemn quotation, I would say most emphatically
to the student--'Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.'"

The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London

The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh


  ARTIST.                  AUTHOR.

  VELAZQUEZ.               S. L. Bensusan.
  REYNOLDS.                S. L. Bensusan.
  TURNER.                  C. Lewis Hind.
  ROMNEY.                  C. Lewis Hind.
  GREUZE.                  Alys Eyre Macklin.
  BOTTICELLI.              Henry E. Binns.
  ROSSETTI.                Lucien Pissarro.
  BELLINI.                 George Hay.
  FRA ANGELICO.            James Mason.
  REMBRANDT.               Josef Israels.
  LEIGHTON.                A. Lys Baldry.
  RAPHAEL.                 Paul G. Konody.
  HOLMAN HUNT.             Mary E. Coleridge.
  TITIAN.                  S. L. Bensusan.
  MILLAIS.                 A. Lys Baldry.
  CARLO DOLCI.             George Hay.
  GAINSBOROUGH.            Max Rothschild.
  TINTORETTO.              S. L. Bensusan.
  LUINI.                   James Mason.
  FRANZ HALS.              Edgcumbe Staley.
  VAN DYCK.                Percy M. Turner.
  LEONARDO DA VINCI.       M. W. Brockwell.
  RUBENS.                  S. L. Bensusan.
  WHISTLER.                T. Martin Wood.
  HOLBEIN.                 S. L. Bensusan.
  BURNE-JONES.             A. Lys Baldry.
  VIGÉE LE BRUN.           C. Haldane Macfall.
  CHARDIN.                 Paul G. Konody.
  FRAGONARD.               C. Haldane Macfall.
  MEMLINC.                 W. H. J. & J. C. Weale.
  CONSTABLE.               C. Lewis Hind.
  RAEBURN.                 James L. Caw.
  JOHN S. SARGENT.         T. Martin Wood.
  LAWRENCE.                S. L. Bensusan.
  DÜRER.                   H. E. A. Furst.
  MILLET.                  Percy M. Turner.
  WATTEAU.                 C. Lewis Hind.
  HOGARTH.                 C. Lewis Hind.
  MURILLO.                 S. L. Bensusan.
  WATTS.                   W. Loftus Hare.
  INGRES.                  A. J. Finberg.

_Others in Preparation_.

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