John Constable

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Constable, John,

1776–1837, English painter, b. Suffolk. Constable and Turner were the leading figures in English landscape painting of the 19th cent. Constable became famous for his landscapes of Suffolk, Hampstead, Salisbury, and Brighton. The son of a prosperous miller, he showed artistic talent while very young but did not devote himself to art until he was 23, when he went to London to study at the Royal Academy. Influenced by the 17th-century landscape painters Ruisdael and Claude Lorrain, his poetic approach to nature paralleled in spirit that of his contemporary, the poet Wordsworth. Constable's direct observations of nature and his free use of broken color were extraordinary in his day. He received but modest recognition in England, being tardily admitted to the Royal Academy in 1829. His work was more popular in France. In 1824, his View on the Stour (1819) and The Hay Wain (1821; National Gall., London) were exhibited at the Salon in Paris, winning gold medals. His work made a profound impression on the French romantics including the young Delacroix and Bonington. Later his painting influenced the Barbizon school and, more indirectly, the general course of French 19th-century landscape art. In the United States he is represented in the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection, New York City, in the Mellon Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn., and in the galleries of Philadelphia, Toledo, and Chicago. Splendid examples of his work are contained in the National Gallery, London and the Victoria and Albert Museum.


See catalog of the latter collection by G. Reynolds (1960); C. R. Leslie, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable (enl. ed. 1937); collections of his letters by P. Holmes (1931) and R. B. Beckett (1962); biography by B. Taylor (1973); studies by C. Peacock (rev. ed. 1972) and R. Gadney (1976).

Constable, John


Born June 11, 1776, in East Bergholt, Suffolk; died Mar. 31, 1837, in London. English painter.

Constable, the son of a village miller, attended the Royal Academy in London from 1800 to 1805 (he became a member of the academy in 1829). He was largely a self-taught artist, having studied nature, the works of J. van Ruisdael, N. Poussin, and C. Lorraine, and the 18th-century English landscape paintings by T. Gainsborough, J. R. Cozens, and T. Girtin.

Rejecting any idealization of nature, Constable depicted the freshness of many facets of everyday village settings by reproducing the flickering atmospheric effects. His works, such as The Hay Wain (1821, National Gallery, London), Salisbury Cathedral From the River (National Gallery, London), Dedham Vale (1828, National Gallery, Edinburgh), and Stoke-by-Nayland (1836; Art Institute of Chicago), reveal a sense of the harmonious unity of nature, which is inspirational and majestic even in its most modest aspect.

Constable composed his landscapes on the basis of a vast number of plein air studies. Some of his landscapes were the first in the history of landscape painting to be done entirely from nature. Constable combines a naturalness of composition and a purity and freshness of colors with a wealth of hues and a mobility of fine brushstroke. He frequently painted the same motif under different weather conditions, subtly conveying the uniqueness of these conditions. He was particularly fond of painting cloud studies and executed numerous series of such studies. Constable greatly furthered the growth of realist tendencies in 19th-century painting (for example, the work of Delacroix, the masters of the Barbizon school, and the impressionists).


Leslie, C. R. ZhiznDzhona Konsteblia, eskvaira. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
Chegodaev, A. D. Dzhon Konstebl’. Moscow, 1968.
Badt, K. John Constable’s Clouds. London, 1950.
Shirley, A. John Constable. London, 1948.
Reynolds, G. Constable, the Natural Painter. London, 1965.