In the 17th century, landscape painting thrived as an independent genre during the Dutch Golden Age. Dutch landscapes appealed to the fine detail and meticulous craftsmanship of British taste. Soon some British artists began depicting mood and emotion through landscapes.
John Constable was one of such English painters influenced by the Dutch landscapes. He is famous for his breathtaking landscape paintings, particularly scenes from his native Suffolk County. With masterpieces like Wivenhoe Park and The Hay Wain, Constable transformed landscaping art and established it as a genre of its own in British art. Today, his paintings are some of the most valuable across Europe.
Constable localized his paintings to the region he grew up in and created remarkable works of art. He took the influences from Dutch art and translated them into familiar scenery. He opined that he had to “paint (his) own places best.” Befittingly, the region has now been named after him as “Constable Country.” Nonetheless, traces of Dutch influence can still be seen throughout Constable’s artistry. This article examines the artist and some of his Dutch-inspired paintings.
All About Painter John Constable
Born on June 11, 1776, in the Suffolk County village of East Bergholt, Constable was the second son of wealthy corn merchants. His father owned several mills around Suffolk, and being the healthier son, Constable was expected to run the family business and take after his father. However, Constable had other plans for his life. He had developed a passion for art that often inspired trips around Suffolk, keenly observing and sketching his native countryside.
Constable subsequently convinced his father to allow him to pursue his artistic interests, and in 1799, he enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools. Although his admission into the Academy was probationary, Constable worked hard at developing his skill that by 1803, he was already exhibiting paintings at the Academy.
In 1816, Constable married his childhood friend Maria Bicknell. However, with mounting responsibilities, he needed more commercial success from his work to sustain himself and his new bride. So, in 1819, he commenced his famous Six-Footer series, a collection of 6 monumental landscapes depicting the River Stour. The series holds some of his most famous paintings and is recognized as his career’s hallmark.
Start of the Commercial Career
The first painting in the Six-Footer series, The White Horse, marked a turning point in Constable’s career. It brought him the commercial success he needed and ensured the continuation of the series. The series contained paintings that depicted various landscape scenes of the River Stour, a landmark of Suffolk County which bordered Essex.
In the years leading up to 1825, Constable released five more large-scale canvases in the Six-Footer series. Luckily for him, since the pioneer painting of the series was hugely successful, the subsequent installations were met with the same positive reception, and his career continued to boom.
Constable was made an Associate at the Royal Academy in 1819, and as his reputation grew, he was invited severally to promote his landscapes abroad. However, he declined the invitations and preferred to remain in England. Nonetheless, his paintings made their way to other European countries like France, earning him even more profit. Today, John Constable paintings are some of Europe’s most famous and valuable paintings.
The Dutch golden age had established landscaping as an independent art genre with the works of Dutch masters like Rembrandt, Ruisdael, and Rubens, to name a few. Their works inspired Constable to abandon portraits and religious scenes for landscapes, which proved his career’s best move. A glance through his works will reveal their similarities with Dutch landscapes. Here are some of them.
The Cornfield Vs. The Path through A Wood by Jacob Van Ruisdael
Also called The Drinking Boy, Constable’s 1826 oil painting is similar to Ruisdael’s 1629 Path Through a Wood painting. Both landscapes feature footpaths that are flanked on both sides by trees that have been painted in rich tones.
In addition, just as Ruisdael painted heavy grey clouds, Constable has also darkened his clouds to signal an imminent downpour. The two figures in Ruisdael’s piece are replaced by a shepherd boy in a red waistcoat and his sheep in Constable’s painting. Constable’s shepherd boy is shown drinking from a nearby pool, hence the second name by which the painting is called. A similar boy with the same appearance who is also drinking from a pool along a mud path is depicted in Constable’s 1810 painting, A Lane Near Flatford.
Although Constable’s painting received positive remarks, the artist couldn’t find a buyer for it. But, after his demise, it was bought by the National Gallery, London
Landscape with Windmills Vs. A Windmill by A Stream by Jacob Van Ruisdael
While commenting on Ruisdael’s masterpiece, Constable praised the “acres of the sky” that the Dutchman painted in his landscape. Ruisdael’s painting, currently part of Queen Elizabeth II’s collection at the Buckingham gallery, is a 17th-century oil painting depicting an old-fashioned windmill by a stream in a marshy area.
Constable reportedly saw this painting in 1821 and immediately fell for its large expanse of sky. In fact, the painting inspired him to create his windmill landscapes, and in 1831, Constable made a copy of Ruisdael’s painting. Just like Ruisdael’s painting, Constable created windmills in marshy terrain.
Constable also included a large depiction of the sky, covering almost half of the entire painting. Interestingly, Constable’s version reflects what Ruisdael’s painting looked like before it was cleaned and had certain elements removed in 1997. Consequently, Constable’s copy looks like the older version.
Placing Constable’s works side by side with Dutch landscapes, it may be hard to tell them apart save for those who may already be familiar with the locations depicted. His countryside scenes depicting elements such as forestry, mills, streams, barges, and little cottages, bear a striking resemblance with the works of Dutch greats like Van Ruisdael and Bruegel, the Elder. However, Constable added the personal touch of painting his locale.