John Constable - 1831
Painted by Charles Robert Leslie - Constable's close friend and first biographer. The portrait was donated to the Royal Academy by John Constable's daughter Isobel in 1886
After Maria's death
After the death of his wife Maria in 1828 at the age of only 41, Constable never regained the freshness and inspiration of his Suffolk landscapes. Later that year (and at the age of 52), he was admitted as a full member of the Royal Academy, 26 years after his rival JMW Turner but he was admitted by only one vote and felt that to some extent it was in sympathy vote because of his wife’s early death. Constable was left with seven young children, all of whom he loved dearly, regarded by friends as an indulgent father. He relied heavily on Mrs Roberts the children’s nanny without whom John Constable would have found it extremely difficult to work.
Scene on a Navigable River Mezzotint 1855
In 1829, Constable started to work with David Lucas on a series of mezzotints featuring some of his most famous Suffolk paintings. Some of these prints were only published after Constable’s death. Although not a commercial success in either man’s lifetime they became collectable afterwards and were collated into a book.
David Lucas (1802 – 1881) was a talented British having been a pupil of Samuel William Reynolds. The collaboration between David Lucas and John Constable was one of the most successful in the history of British printmaking. Published in 1855, this mezzotint is now owned by the Tate Gallery – to find out more click on Scene on a Navigable River – Mezzotint
After the death of his wife John Constable preferred working in water colour rather than oils. He developed new techniques in using opaque pigments, experimenting with different brushes, using a coarse-haired brush to produce thick, shadowy details. He also used the end of the handle of his brush to score and abrade the paper, removing paint and bringing fine touches of light to dark areas. For more information click on the Victoria and Albert website Constable’s watercolours-sketches
In July 1834, following a period of mourning and illness, John visited his friend and fellow artist George Constable at Arundel and went to paint the surrounding area, including Findon Wood and Petworth, by invitation of Lord Egremont. Some of these water colour sketches are highly finished including those called Petworth Church and Windmill and Petworth Park which you can see by clicking onto this BBC site
Salisbury was an important place for John Constable. It was the home of Bishop John Fisher who had commissioned the Salisbury Cathedral painting. It was also the home of the bishop’s nephew Archdeacon John Fisher, Constable’s trusted friend and confidante.
Constable’s best known work from his later period is a six-footer called Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows featuring an impressive rainbow over Salisbury Cathedral. He exhibited the painting in 1831 but it did not find a buyer. The painting remained in the artist’s studio – where he continued to retouch it – until his death in 1837. It is now owned by the Tate Gallery.
Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows
by John Constable 1831
Opening of Waterloo Bridge (1817) 1832
Helvoetsluys City of Utrecht, 64, Going to Sea
John Constable and JW Turner and Constable remained rivals to the end. This rivalry was famously illustrated by an incident in 1832 when both men were exhibiting pictures next to each other at the Royal Academy.
Constable was laboriously putting his finishing touches to the busy scene in the gallery The Opening of Waterloo Bridge. Turner, seeing that in comparison his serene seascape Helvoetsluys, was a little lacking in colour, he entered the room, painted a small red buoy in the middle of his canvas – and left without saying a word. In so doing he stole the show.
Constable, mortified by Turner’s deft touch, remarked: “He has been here and fired a gun.”
There are two versions of Constable’s Opening of Waterloo Bridge – one can be found in Anglesea Abbey and the other, which is referred to in the spat with Turner described above, is in the Tate Gallery in London (see first image above). Although the bridge opened in 1817, this painting was the culmination of 13 years work before it was completed and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1832.
Opening of Waterloo Bridge – Tate Gallery
Opening of Waterloo Bridge – full size sketch – Angelsea Abbey (National Trust)
Heloetsluys by JMW Turner – Tate Gallery