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 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.