Monday, 31 March 2014

John Constable and The White Horse

John Constable (East Bergholt, Suffolk, England, 11th June 1776 - London, England, 31st March 1837)


John Constable, Self Portrait
Self Portrait

Today marks the anniversary of the death of John Constable, an icon of English Romantic painting. Constable is renowned for his beautiful and highly detailed landscapes yet he was far from an overnight success and often struggled to make ends meet financially. Today I shall take a closer look about an important painting in Constable's story, The White Horse.

In 1819 Constable completed the first of what were to become known as his six footers, the large paintings that would seal his reputation. When the work was displayed at the Royal Academy the painted titled it A Scene on the River Stour, though it would later be renamed The White Horse, the title by which it is now widely known.


The White Horse by John Constable, 1819
The White Horse by John Constable, 1819

The canvas shows the view from the south bank of the River Stour below Flatford Lock and depicts a scene of daily pastoral business. A white horse waits patiently on a barge to cross the river to the towpath and resume its journey on foot, whilst cattle amble lazily in the shallows. In the distance one can see Willy Lott's cottage, later immortalised in The Hay Wain. Constable shows the natural beauty of nature as vibrant trees line the banks of the river and aboard the barge two men toil to reach their destination, the only humans present in the scene.

It is a painting that I adore; I have heard criticisms of the nostalgic wonder of Constable's work, of his rose-tinted vision of England and yet it is this nostalgia that I find so very appealing. One might almost step into the canvas and hear the soft sounds of the water, the quiet murmur of the men as they work. Perhaps is is rose-tinted, but perhaps that is why I like it!

The painting was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1819 and it was a success, with Constable finally being elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy following its exhibition. Archdeacon John Fisher purchased the work and renamed it The White Horse, though a decade later he sold it back to Constable, who kept it in his own collection until his death.

14 comments:

Gerri Bowen said...

I love to look at his work. Makes me happy.

Madame Gilflurt said...

I utterly, utterly agree.

Vielka Helen Princess Eboli said...

I love this post !!! <3

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post Catherine! Constable's paintings are just beautiful. The critics may be right about nostalgic wonder, but that is what I like best about them. This painting in particular shows a glimpse of England at its most idyllic. So peaceful and lovely. You can really feel it. As if you were actually there.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you!

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you, Mimi. It is precisely the nostalgic wonder that appeals to me too, I get a profound sense of peace from Constable's landscapes.

Mari Christian said...

I'm another one who loves the pastoral beauty of Constable.

Regencyresearcher said...

There are those who want only to dwell on the hardships, the poverty and the "dark satanic mills" of Constable's time. Yet scenes such as he painted existed then and still do ( though more rarely) A peaceful English countryside. . It shouldn't be considered idyllic but the norm.

Catherine Curzon said...

You could just step into the canvas!

Catherine Curzon said...

Hear hear! We live near some wonderful countryside, and never better than at this time of year.

Alison said...

My husband and son (then aged 10) stayed in Willy Lott's Cottage, on a Field Studies Centre birdwatching holiday. Having read James Mayhew's children's art book 'Katie's Picture Show' (she 'climbs' inside some famous paintings), it was fun for him to enjoy a similar experience inside Constable's famous painting.

Catherine Curzon said...

What a wonderful memory!

Sarah said...

I love Constable's work, and it's only trite because poor imitators have made it so. Apart from the lack of elm trees these days, the scenery on the Suffolk/Essex borders that is Constable country still has the same timeless appeal.

Catherine Curzon said...

It's a lovely part of the world.