Constable transformed the genre of landscape painting, imbuing his detailed, naturalistic scenes of rural England (especially Dedham Vale in Suffolk) with a new intensity of sentiment and extensive art historical knowledge. His life spanned the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, notably the same years as the famous ‘Romantic’ poet and nature writer William Wordsworth.
A student of the Old Masters
Painting the English countryside was a popular leisure pursuit for gentlemen such as Constable, though, as the show reveals, he was anything but a dilettante. For the first time, Constable’s monumental works will be displayed alongside the ‘Old Master’ landscape painters whom he had assiduously studied and responded to. Contemporary art critics praised Constable’s modernisation of these 17th century Dutch and Flemish landscape artists such as Hobbema, Rubens, Ruisdael and Wouwerman. This clever use of the art criticism of the day reflects the erudite nature of the exhibition.
Other inspired moments include reuniting preparatory sketches with their finished oil versions – such as The Hay Wain and The Leaping Horse (1825) (both of the River Stour) – revealing Constable’s process and the fineness of his poetic touch. Expect too some enlightening discussion of the fashionable method of painting en plein air – alongside lots of fluffy Constable clouds – and of his commercially savvy engraving enterprises.
Constable the collector
An admirer of Sir George Beaumont’s Old Master collection, Constable himself collected over 5,000 prints such as the majestic and desolate etching The Three Trees (1643) by Rembrandt, which is also on show. Beloved by connoisseurs throughout the centuries, Rembrandt’s etchings in Constable’s collection are a sign of this artist’s extremely cultivated eye.
This V&A exhibition unearths the radical Romantic force beneath a well-known name and reveals the making of an exquisite mind. One is forced to concede that Constable really was a giant among European painters and Constable: The Making of a Master is definitely a giant contender for our favourite exhibition in London.
Click here for our exclusive interview with the exhibition's curator, Mark Evans.
|What||Constable: The Making of a Master, V&A|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
20 Nov 14 – 11 Jan 15, Various times
|Price||£14 adults, £9 students|
|Website||Click here for more information|