« ZurückWeiter »
approached his work. He was particularly fond of painting the spring and early summer. “All nature revives," he writes, “and everything around me is springing up and coming into lise. At every step I am reminded of the words of Scripture, I am the Resurrection and the Life.'” “The landscape painter," he said in one of his lectures, “must walk in the fields with an humble mind. No arrogant mind was ever permitted to see nature in all her beauty. If I may be allowed to use a very solemn quotation, I would say most emphatically to the student, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.'" “ The feelings of Constable with respect to his art might,” says Mr. Ruskin, “be almost a model for the young student." He painted English scenery, and he painted it in a simple, vigorous, unaffected way. “His works,” continues Mr. Ruskin, "are to be deeply respected, as thoroughly original, thoroughly honest, free from affectation, manly in manner, frequently successful in cool colour, and realising certain motives of English scenery with perhaps as much affection as such scenery, unless where regarded through media of feeling derived from higher sources, is calculated to inspire” (Modern Painters, Preface to second edition, p. xxxix. 1., and vol. i. pt. ii. sec. i. ch. vii. § 18). It was the spectacle in Constable's work of homely scenes painted in a simple way that caused his pictures to make so much sensation in France, where the “ideal ” style of landscape, as practised by Claude and Poussin, had been until then in vogue. “What resemblance," the Paris. ian critics cried in despair, “ can you find between these paintings and those of Poussin, whom we ought always to admire and imitate ? Beware of this Englishman's pictures ; they will be the ruin of our school, and no true beauty, style, or tradition is to be discovered in thein." The warning was not misplaced, for to Constable, it is now admitted, the modern French school of landscape is largely due. Constable reported this adverse French criticism himself, and added, “I am well aware that my works have a style of their own, but to my mind, it is exactly that which constitutes their merit, and besides, I have ever held to Sterne's precept, *Do not trouble yourself about
1 A less fortunate result of Constable's influence was the adoption and exaggeration of his somewhat blurred forms. "His tree drawing, for instance, is," says Mr. Ruskin, “the kind of work which is produced by an uninventive person dashing about idly with a brush, ... and as representative of tree form, wholly barbarous . . . wholly false in ramification, idle and undefined in every respect; it being, however, just possible still to discern what the tree is meant for, and therefore the type of the worst modernism not being completely established" (Modern Painters, vol. ii. pt. iv. ch. ix. § 13 ; vol. iv. pt. v. ch. v. & 19). This is why Mr. Ruskin elsewhere expresses “regret that the admiration of Constable, already harmful enough in England, is extending even into France." “Constablesque" is only one stage removed from “blottesque," from "the blotting and blundering of Modernism" (see Modern Painters, vol. iii. Appendix i. ; and Two Paths, Appendix i.)
doctrines and systems, go straight before you, and obey the promptings of nature.'” The style of Constable is indeed very strongly marked ; he is one of the most easily recognisable of painters, and the fact suggests an important principle of criticism. The aspects of nature are infinitely various. Many painters may set themselves with equal fidelity to paint nature as they see it, yet each of them will see it differently. Take for instance Gainsborough and Constable. Both lived in Suffolk and loved Suffolk, and each with the same love of truth went straight to the fountain - head with the one desire of representing faithfully what they saw. Yet there is no possibility of mistaking Gainsborough's Suffolk for Constable's. “Sweetness, grace, and a tinge of melancholy shed their softening charm over Gainsborough's. Through the clouds one imagines a soft sky; no hard or sharp angles are visible ; the too-vivid colours tone themselves down, subject to his unconsciously sympathetic handling; every smallest detail breathes of the serenity which issued from Gains. borough's own peaceful temperament” (Chesneau : The English School, p. 141). What Constable on the other hand saw in nature is summed up in Fuseli's sarcasm, “I am going to see Constable ; bring me mine ombrella.” “Fuseli's jesting compliment,” says Mr. Ruskin, “is too true ; for the showery weather in which the artist delights misses alike the majesty of storm and the loveliness of calm weather ; it is greatcoat weather, and nothing more. There is strange want of depth in the mind which has no pleasure in sunbeams but when piercing painfully through clouds, nor in foliage but when shaken by the wind, nor in light itself but when flickering, glistening, restless, and feeble." Some of the narrowness of Constable's choice was due to his passion for chiaroscuro. “No chiaroscuro ever was good, as such, which was not subordinate to character and to form ; and all search after it as a first object ends in the loss of the thing itself so sought. One of our English painters, Constable, professed this pursuit in its simplicity. Though my pictures should have nothing else, they shall have chiaroscuro. The sacrifice was accepted by the fates, but the prayer denied. His pictures had nothing else ; but they had not chiaroscuro”! (Academy Notes, 1859, p. 53). Not quite nothing else, as we have seen. But undoubtedly when his works are compared with Turner's, they are found very narrow in their range. And it is just this narrowness, this restriction to common aspects of nature, that ensures Constable's popularity. For “there are some truths easily obtained, which give a deceptive resemblance to Nature ; others only to be obtained with difficulty, which cause no
1“ It is singular to reflect what that fatal Chiaroscuro has done to art, in the full extent of its influence. It has been not only shadow, but shadow of Death ; passing over the face of ancient art, as death itself might over a fair human countenance ; whispering, as it reduced it to the white projections and lightless orbits of the skull, 'Thy face shall have nothing else, but it shall have chiaroscuro'” (Modern Painters, vol. iii. pt. iv. ch. X. § 20 n.)
deception, but give inner and deeper resemblance. These two classes of truths cannot be obtained together ; choice must be made between them. The bad painter gives the cheap deceptive resemblance. The good painter gives the precious non-deceptive resemblance. Constable perceives in a landscape that the grass is wet, the meadows flat, and the boughs shady ; that is to say, about as much as, I suppose, might in general be apprehended, between them, by an intelligent fawn, and a skylark. ... Even those who are not ignorant, or dull, judge often erroneously of effects of art, because their very openness to all pleasant and sacred association instantly colours what. ever they see, so that, give them but the feeblest shadow of a thing they love, they are instantly touched by it to the heart, and mistake their own pleasurable feelings for the result of the painter's power. Thus when, by spotting and splashing, such a painter as Constable reminds them somewhat of wet grass and green leaves, forthwith they fancy themselves in all the happiness of a meadow walk” (Modern Painters, vol. iii. pt. iv. ch. x. & 3 ; vol. iv. pt. v. ch. iii. $ 6).
or Constable's life, the most interesting thing to note is its remarkable fidelity to his art. His early years were a long struggle to realise his ideals. At school he excelled in nothing but penmanship. 1 “Come out of your painting room," the master used to say when the lad's attention wandered from his books. But his true painting room was in the fields, where he used to sketch with a village plumber named Dunthorne. His father designed him for the Church, but afterwards put him in charge of one of his mills—an apprenticeship which was of great value to Constable, as leading him to study the sky. In a letter written many years later, Constable, in describing his sky studies, significantly remarks on the importance of the sky even in everyday life for practical purposes. From the mill he passed in 1796 to the Academy Schools, but though dissatisfied with his progress, he never lost hope. "I feel more than ever convinced," he wrote in 1803, " that one day or other I shall paint well; and that even if it does not turn to my advantage during my lifetime, my pictures will be handed down to posterity.” “Mark what I say," he said to a friend thirty years later ; “they accuse me of sprinkling my pictures with a whitewash brush. But the time will come-I may not live to see it, but you may—when you will find that my pictures will kill all the others near them. These whites and glittering spots which they dislike
It is interesting to know that Gainsborough shared Constable's fond. ness for good penmanship. “I have heard him (Gainsborough) say that the sight of a letter written by an elegant penman pleased him beyond expression, and I recollect being with him one day when the servant brought him one from his schoolmaster in Suffolk, which, after reading, he held at a distance, as John Bridge the jeweller would a necklace, first inclining his head upon one shoulder and then on the other, after which he put it upon the lower part of his easel, and frequently glanced at it during the time he was scraping the colours together upon his easel" (J. T. Smith : Nollekens and his Times, i. 186).
will tone down, and, without losing their purpose, time will harmonise them with the rest” (Athenæum, March 10, 1888). In 1815 he married a girl whom-faithful in love as in art-he had loved since he was a boy. In 1819 he was elected A.R.A., but not till 1829 full R.A. In 1820 he removed from Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, to Well Walk, Hampstead, the better to study his favourite skies. He died suddenly in London, when coming away from his dear old Somerset House” (where the Academy was then housed). In his latter years he inherited money through his wife, which made him independent of any professional earnings ; but many of his best works remained on his hands for years, and the majority of those he sold were bought by personal friends. But all the while that he was waiting for acceptance, he never became bitter. Equally admirable was the catholicity of his taste. He had, as he said, a style of his own, and was a rebel from all the scholastic rules of his time. Yet he admired what was great in those whose work was different from his own, no less than the work of those with whom he was artistically in sympathy. Sir George Beaumont, to whom Constable, like so many artists, was indebted for help, had shown him the little Claude, now numbered 61, p. 358, and he was greatly delighted with it. Many years later he wrote to his friend, Archdeacon Fisher, “ I looked into Angerstein's the other day : how paramount is Claude !" “ Cozens is all poetry," he exclaimed. “Did you ever see a picture by Turner,” he asked, “and not wish to possess it ?” “I cannot think of it even now," he said of one of Gainsborough's landscapes, " without tears in my eyes.” So true is it what Mr. Ruskin says, that "he who walks humbly with nature will seldom be in danger of losing sight of art. He will commonly find in all that is truly great of man's works something of their original, for which he will regard them with gratitude, and sometimes follow them with respect” (Modern Painters, vol. i., Preface to 2d ed., p. xxxix. n.)
How much Constable loved his home we have just seen ; and one sees further, in looking at this rough but effective sketch, from the very simplicity of his favourite scenes, how sincere was his affection. It is further interesting to compare this and the other small Constables in this room with his larger pictures in the next room ; these here, though not free from the “blottesque,” are painted more broadly, and without that spottiness of touch which led the critics to talk of “ Constable's snow.”
1 The system is best exhibited in Sir George Beaumont's rules. His first question on seeing a landscape used to be, “ Where is your brown tree?" His second is shown in the following story. " I see,' he said, looking at a picture by Constable your first and your second light, but I can't make out which is your third.' Constable told this to Turner, who said, You should have asked him how many lights Rubens introduced.'"
343. THE WOODEN BRIDGE.
Sir Augustus Wall Callcott, R.A. (1779–1844). Callcott was originally a choir boy at Westminster Abbey, and is said to have derived his first impulse to become a painter from seeing Stothard's illustrations to Robinson Crusoe. He entered the Academy Schools, and also studied under Hoppner, was elected A.R.A. in 1806, and R.A. in 1810. In 1837, in which year he had departed from his usual groove of landscape, cattle, and marines, and exhibited “ Raphael and the Fornarina," he was knighted, and a few months before he died was appointed Keeper of the Queen's Pictures. “On the works of Callcott," says Mr. Ruskin, “high as his reputation stands, I should look with far less respect ; I see not any preference or affection in the artist ; there is no tendency in him with which we can sympathise, nor does there appear any sign of aspiration, effort, or enjoyment in any one of his works. He appears to have completed them methodically, to have been content with them when completed, to have thought them good, legitimate, regular pictures; perhaps in some respects better than nature. He painted everything tolerably, and nothing excellently; he has given us no gift, struck for us no light, and though he has produced one or two valuable works, of which the finest I know is the Marine in the possession of Sir J. Swinburne, they will, I believe, in future have no place among those considered representatives of the English School” (Modern Painters, vol. i. pt. ii. sec. i. ch. vii. s 18). His work is not represented at its best in the National Gallery. Many of his other pictures have fetched large prices, though the tendency in his fame, as thus measured, seems now, as Mr. Ruskin predicted, to be downward. Thus an English landscape, with Cattle by Landseer, sold in 1863 for 3000 guineas, but in 1883 for £1470. Personally, Callcott was much esteemed by a very numer. ous circle of friends, one of whom described his career as “resembling one of those softly illuminated and gently flowing rivers he often sympathetically painted.”
A scene described (with a curious piece of final bathos) by Leigh Hunt
A wooden bridge, a hut embowered, a stream
That calmly seems to wait the dredger's will ;
A wife, babe holding, yet laborious still ;
1245. CHURCH PORCH, BERGHOLT, SUFFOLK.
J. Constable, R.A. (1776-1837). See under 1235, p. 459.