With apologies to those who know all this already, and more….
Anne Lyles was one of those speakers who we are fortunate enough to have at many events in the Museum, who you know could talk for hours on her subject and the audience would still want more. On Thursday evening she spoke for just one hour on the later works of John Constable, and Salisbury from the Meadows is an example. This painting, known as one of Constable’s “six footers”, was, incidentally, very nearly the first to be bought by the nation in the period immediately after his death. In the end, it was The Cornfield, one of his early works. When we looked at a slide of the two, side by side, the difference in style was immediately clear.
Constable’s early works were very realistic paintings, largely of his home county Suffolk – the beautiful, idyllic scenes we always associate with the archetypal English painter. Anne explained that in the 1820s and 30s however, he spent some time in Brighton where his sick wife sought the recuperative sea air. During this time he began to develop a looser style, applying thicker paint and using artistic licence by, for example, ‘moving’ buildings in order to improve composition, or, perhaps, make a point. All of this can be seen in Salisbury from the Meadows. The interpretation screen next to the painting in the Museum highlights some of these features.
We can make up our own minds about which of his styles we prefer but must allow a great artist to develop his style. Anne gave us further fascinating insight by telling us that Constable was one of those painters who never knew when he had finished, and kept fiddling with his work. Any art teacher will tell you that is a disaster! He fiddled to the point that, having sold a painting, he would tell the buyer he would just add another layer of varnish. He would then keep the painting for a few more months, altering and adding rather to the despair of the owner!
I can’t wait for Anne’s next talk!
Anne Lyles is an art historian and curator of 18th and 19th British Art at the Tate in London. You might be interested in this site in order to read more….