With Turner (q.v.), his exact contemporary, John Constable defined the parameters of genius for a generation of romantic landscape painters. The son of a prosperous miller and gentleman farmer, he entered into his profession late and was basically self-taught. Between 1796 and 1799 Constable had the advice of several artists and connoisseurs influential in the London art scene, primarily that of Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827), John Thomas Smith (1766-1833), and Joseph Farington (1747-1821). With the grudging consent of his parents, he entered the Royal Academy schools in 1799, the same year Turner was elected an associate member. (Twenty years would elapse before the academy conceded Constable that gesture of recognition.) He emerged publicly as a mature and focused painter of naturalistic landscapes in 1802 with the exhibition of his first oil painting at the Royal Academy.1 Shortly afterward he moved to his family home in East Bergholt with the intention of getting "a pure and unaffected representation of the scenes that may employ me." The tours of 1806 produced an important body of Lake District material, especially studies in watercolor and in graphite, a medium Constable employed with unrivaled ability even at this early date. In 1808 he began a period of intense plein-air oil sketching and by 1814 was painting finished pictures like the magnificent Stour Valley and Dedham Village (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) or Wivenhoe Park, Essex (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)2 entirely out of doors. The Stour River, Flatford Mill, and Dedham Vale were the subjects to which he returned repeatedly with brilliant success. With his bride, Maria Bicknell, the artist moved permanently to London in 1816. His repertoire of subjects would expand to include Brighton, Salisbury, and Hampstead Heath, and both his practice and his fortunes also evolved in a significant new direction when he began his six-foot pictures of Suffolk landscape painted in the London studio. The scale of such works as The White Horse (1819, Frick Collection, New York)3 undoubtedly contributed to his successful bid for associate membership in the Royal Academy that year. With Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and Bonington (q.v.), Constable created a sensation at the 1824 Paris Salon, where he exhibited The Hay Wain (National Gallery, London) and View on the Stour near Dedham (Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino),4 although French artists had known and admired his work since 1820. After the death of his wife in 1828 and his election as full academician in 1829, Constable turned toward consolidating his reputation through writing, lecturing, and the medium of printmaking. He published English Landscape (1830-32) in collaboration with the mezzotint engraver David Lucas, but it was commercially unsuccessful. He never ceased to work from nature, but the later masterworks Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1831, National Gallery, London), The Opening of Waterloo Bridge (1832, Tate Gallery, London), and Arundel Mill and Castle (1837, Toledo Museum of Art)5 are pictures in which an expressionistic use of the medium struggles against an ever-increasing imaginative formalization of natural motifs.
1. Probably Edge of the Wood (Art Gallery of Ontario); see Reynolds 1996, no. 2.1.
2. Reynolds 1996, no. 15.1; Reynolds 1984, no. 17.4.
3. Reynolds 1984, no. 2:19.1.
4. Reynolds 1984, no. 21.1; Reynolds 1984, 22.1.
5. Reynolds 1984, no. 31.1; Reynolds 1984, no. 32.1; Reynolds 1984, no. 37.1.