Romantic Landscape: John Constable
John Constable (1776-1837) was an English artist whose life and works embody the spirit of the Romantic Age. In his boyhood he loved walking around countrysides surrounding his native village in Suffolk and spent his free time making sketches of rural life. His father wanted him to take over the family business, but young John had already found his vocation in art. In 1799 he entered the Royal Academy Schools where he studied and copied the works of the great painters of the past. In this period he took decision that was to shape his whole life, that of becoming a professional landscape painter.
Constable’s deep love for nature and great sensitivity to clours is evident in the way he reproduced the scenery of the English countryside. His habit of painting in the open air made him acutely aware of the weather as a continuos phenomenon that could alter the appearance of the landscape. His cloud sketches are intense attempts to capture the transient quality of the sky and the effect of the light and movement it produced on everything on earth.
While on honeymoon at Osmington, a small fishing village on the south coast of England, he produced several studies of the beach and sorroundings ares, which later resulted in large-size picturs. Weymouth Bay is a finest rendering of Constable’s central idea that the sky is “the key note, the standard of scale, and the chief organ of sentiment” in a picture, that is, the elemnt that mostly attracts the viewer’s eye. Probably painted on the spot, during a sudden spell of stormy weather, it shows the artist’s skill in capturing the changing effects of light and patterns in the clouds and their shadows on the ground below. Here pigment is put down freely in rapid brush strokes, a technique unusual at the time as it brings to mind the French Impressionists who, not by chance, were deeply influenced by Constable’s style. On the whole, the natural scene is portrayed faithfully, but the contrast of dark/light shades of colours used to depict the sky and sea makes the seascape deeply felt, and gives the painting an incredible sense of movement, and innediacy and freshness that reveal Constable’s mastery as one of the greatest landscape innovators of the 19th century.