What's on in Paris in Winter 2003

Stargonaut
On-Line Galler
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Browse the rooms like in real life and discover contemporary artists.
JOHN CONSTABLE * LUCIAN FREUD
Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais
From 22nd September 2002 to 13th January 2003
Access: Square Jean Perrin, Paris 8th
Metro: Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau
Open: 10:00 to 20:00
Wednesdays until 22:00 a
Closed: Tuesdays & 25th December 2002
Price:10 Euros, 8 Euros for 13-25 year-olds and on Mondays, free for under 13 year-olds
Information at
33 (0)1 42 31 32 28

Editorial Collection


John Constable * chosen by Lucian Freud


Immediately on entering the exhibition, two paintings — a tree trunk and a nude — introduce this exhibition of paintings by Constable, hand-picked by Freud. Lucian Freud's nude, with it's coarse, weathered skin expresses the same realism as Constable's tree trunk with it's deformed branches and cracked bark. Lucian Freud's people and Constable's trees are similar in that the older they are the more beautiful they grow, the more precious they become, the richer their fruit, and the higher their achievement. Moreover, there is an intense emotion in both painters that binds everything together like a leitmotiv: you can almost hear their hearts beat in tune.
After this subtle introduction, the visitor then plunges into the world of John Constable, the 19th century gentleman farmer-miller turned artist who indicated the path of 20th century painting through a shaded lane somewhere in the Suffolk countryside.
Constable knew by heart each tree, each corner of the countryside he painted. As a little boy he must have drunk from that little stream in 'The Cornfield' on a hot summer day, and he must have taken that same road as in the painting when he went to grammar school at Dedham.
Every hour of the day brought a different meaning to the daily drama of life around the valley of the river Stour. Here everything and everyone had a clear-cut role to play: the river irrigated the two pieces of land and powered the mill that transformed the harvest; the barges were used to carry the flour and even the horse that pulled the barges; boys drove the towing horses that pulled the barges; men built the boats shaded by the trees; the dogs tended the sheep; and the sky announced the hour.
Constable's trust in nature sprang from the feeling of belonging to that familiar space that he called home. "Those scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful".
He chose to recreate the complexity of life within the simplicity of natural scenes in the countryside surrounding his birthplace at East Bergholt. This is in the Stour valley— the little river that separates Essex from Suffolk to the North of London — and his native village looked out over the Dedham Vale close to Flatford where his father, a wealthy corn merchant, owned several mills.
It is his sensation of awakening to life that he shares with us even today. He built his paintings out of his own roots to carry us into his world the way old trees were fashioned into shiny new boats by the workmen building near Flatford mill. This was not a world of fantasy, luxury or arrogance, but a simple one rich with authentic harmony, alive with creativity and endeavor.
Conveying this love of his natural surroundings didn't come easy to one who wasn't a prodigiously gifted draftsman, though we have difficulty believing this today when we are astonished over and over again at the quality and complexity of his compositions. And yet, what Constable achieved was indeed prodigious: a totally new way of thinking and creating in an epoch known for it's conservatism, adventuring on unbeaten tracks while paving the way for not only future styles of painting, such as Impressionism, but a whole new ideology on the philosophy of art, thus leaving his imprint on landscape painting in particular and the history of art in general.
To achieve this he had imposed upon himself the arduous discipline to marry the eternal essence of life safeguarded in his memory with the swiftly changing mood of nature that modified the appearance of the elements, at the source of which he sought permanence. His way to overcome the dilemma was to make oil sketches from life that captured an instant in the passage of time, and these were later recomposed in his study where he instilled in them that touch of eternity so deeply impressed in his memory, so intensely felt during his youth.
Writing to the painter John Dunthorne, who accompanied him early in his youth when he took up landscape painting, he said: "I love every stile and stump; so deep rooted are early impressions". This shows that it wasn't just what was before his eyes that moved him, but his early experiences were just as important and perhaps even more meaningful when remembered.
He soon noticed that this ambition of integrating the eternal into the temporal cannot be achieved by mechanical copying. He could neither adopt the old master techniques of landscape painting — he called this "seeking the truth at second hand"— nor copy exactly what was before his eyes. Representing nature did not mean making an exact visual copy of the scene he was looking at since he often moved the elements to enhance his composition — as witness different sketches of the same scene such as 'the Leaping Horse'.
When he did copy other artists it was to exercise his hand and perfect his technique, not as an end in itself as was customary at his time. In the course of his life-long apprenticeship he particularly admired Ruisdael's etchings, Gainsborough's paintings of Suffolk, Rembrandt, and Rubens, as well as Claude Lorraine whose 'Hagar and the Angel' was the painting that inspired him most. But, more than anything else it was his love of the familiar nature that permeated his art.
Unfortunately today you cannot look at Constable's paintings with an innocent eye; paintings such as the 'Hay Wain' have acquired other connotations through fame and mass-produced photographs. Let's say that we are discovering Constable's paintings for the first time, such as Delacroix at the 1824 Salon, then we can speak of five dimensions to Constable's compositions. The moving clouds occupying the sky charged with energy and drama; the somber earth that buries under its velvety green blanket the secrets of the past; the shiny waters of his river as a reflection of his own limpid mind witnessing every event, natural or man made; the trees, scarred by living, trying to keep their heads high, suffering through torment and tempest, imprisoned by the past yet the first to have a glimpse of the future; and the human activity that makes the composition dynamic.
The Hay Wain's exhibition in Paris inspired the would-be Romantics with it's dramatic content, the future Realists for it's down-to-earth subject matter, and the budding Impressionists for the immediacy of execution with which Constable caught the fleeting moment through spontaneous brush-strokes. He also became a model to follow for the landscapists of the 'Barbizon' school, such as Rousseau. Here we have landscapes of ordinary countryside elevated from a minor genre to a major art form, with Delacroix declaring that "Constable is the father of our school of landscape" (the 1825 exhibition in Lille and the 1827 exhibition in Paris confirmed the interest he aroused in France after winning gold medals at the Salon in 1824).
The most significant periods of his painting seem to be directly connected with the places he stayed. To observe his maturing in style, two views of Dedham, one painted in 1802 (Victoria & Albert Museum) and the other in 1828 (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), are often compared: the earlier version is slightly idealized and with a remote and smooth beauty; the second version is more expressionistic, with more emphasis on the dramatic quality of clouds, and the elements are built with bolder brush strokes, the trees are more rustic and rugged, the contrasting colors more explosively vivid.
The series of water colors painted in 1806 in the Lake District (North East of London) where he met William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, do capture the romantically somber and lunar character of this landscape that is radically different from the richly endowed Dedham vale, being essentially composed of large masses of mountains, water and sky without familiar little details suggesting human presence.
The series painted between his studio in Charlotte Street, London and his native village in 1810 are mostly views of his father's gardens, perhaps the first time in history that someone chose simple country houses in a field with the familiar touch of a man-made flower garden making the abstract notions of light, shade and movement as protagonists of a landscape. With this period came recognition from Farrington and Benjamin West, and the ambition to paint larger paintings for exhibition at the Royal Academy.
Between 1811 and 1817 he made sketches from real life, both to exercise and to use for later elaboration into larger paintings. 'Flatford Mill' as seen from a lock on the Stour, or 'Barges on the Stour' (both painted in 1811) are oil sketches where the visual first impression was rapidly executed, giving way to some of his most unconventional paintings — almost of an Impressionist nature.
The 'Bay of Weymouth', painted in 1816 during his honey moon at the nearby Osmington Vicarage, marks the beginning of his 'finished' paintings in the open air. It is a painting that merges both the spontaneous qualities of a temporal landscape, with the deeply felt spiritual dimension of life's eternal resurrection.
Continuing his research for a technique to better convey his ambition, he painted 'Boat-Building near Flatford Mill', a large painting entirely painted outdoors with minute details but out of keeping with his passionate style, lacking that leitmotiv of intense emotion. 'Flatford Mill on the river Stour', a 40 by 50 inch painting, followed in 1817. Here the details are indicated by brush strokes of vivid color, the natural elements creating a sensation of depth, volume and space, and while keeping their intrinsic values, they are bound together with feeling. The objects, whether animate or not, have a dual quality of being carefully positioned to indicate volume and create space as well as transmitting to the viewer the love of the artist for each and every one of them.
From here onwards he consciously used the sky to set the tone (or as he called it "the keynote"). The sky became the key element to determine the emotional content as well as the "chiaroscuro of nature" as he called it, or the dramatic effect of light filtered by clouds on the scene. The 'Hay Wain' of 1821 is of that nature (as suggested by the original title 'Landscape: Noon'); he captured the movement in the sky with a large oil sketch, menacing clouds engendering the dark waters, while fortunately letting some light filter through to make the water shine and the foreground activity visible. The finished picture (National Gallery, London) emphasizes the effect of light and shade and defines the colors and forms while eliminating the foreground figure not essential to the composition. The sketch emerges as more deeply felt, the whole picture being more in tone with the mood of the skies, more true to the somber and rugged mud-drenched scene of labor. The 'Leaping Horse' of 1825 repeats the happy experience of the 'Hay Wain'. A full-size oil sketch (Victoria & Albert Museum) was clearly made in preparation of the finished work (Royal Academy). Although the sky remains the keynote, several other dynamic elements participate in the romantic symphony: the horse, the mill dam waterfall in the foreground, and the willow tree. The energy that lifts the horse to jump over the barrier that kept the cattle in, is the symbol used so many times of the dynamics of work that lifts humanity out of darkness towards light. Again the finished canvas is more subdued and more polished, according to the taste of his time.
After the 'Leaping Horse', Constable felt the challenge of trying his hand at different scenes other than his homeland, although he had already sketched in Hampstead Heath since 1820 and the views of Somerset House from 1819. From 1827 he chose to extend his stay at Hampstead Heath, his summer place. Here his studies of atmospheric effects and distant landscapes open with panoramic views produced singing and happy landscapes. Later, having moved to Brighton to a climate judged more clement to the poor health of his wife, Constable decried the social atmosphere, but his art emerges once again with some original sketches of the sea dominated by a heavily clouded sky. He also managed to introduce some drama and activity in 'The Marine Parade and Chain Pier' in the flat land that was not quite his kind of landscape. Salisbury Cathedral was another place to which he was attached through his friendship with Bishop Fisher, with whom he kept frequent correspondence; the Bishop encouraged him in his work and also officiated at his wedding to Maria. Several versions were made of his impressions of this magnificent gothic cathedral.
Home, his roots and the feeling of belonging remained the basis of his inspiration, first at his birthplace during his youth, and then with the home that he created with his wife and friends. The ghostly Hadleigh Castle, painted after the death of his wife (1828-29), suggests the state of mind of a poet who feels he has lost his home and his inspiration, and it presages the later period of his paintings that are more mannered and less compact, even if still from the hand of a master.

Biographical note
:
1776, 11th June: Birth of John Constable in East Bergholt, village in Suffolk, England, fourth child of Golding Constable a prosperous mill owner with mills at Flatford and Dedham. He painted the countryside of his birthplace accompanied by the amateur painter John Dunthorne a village plumber.
1796: Met J.T. Smith, a biographer-draftsman, who inspired him with his drawings. This year he also met with Sir George Beaumont, his first mentor and a passionate art lover. He was introduced to the art of Claude Lorraine and Richard Wilson through Beaumont.
1799: Trip to London to follow courses in painting at the Royal Academy, mainly painting academic nudes to learn to observe nature from real. Encouraged by Joseph Farington and amateur painter Sir George Beaumont, who allowed him to copy Girtin’s drawings and showed him Claude Lorraine’s Hagar and the Angel (now in the National Gallery).
1801: A view of ‘East Bergholt Hall’ was the first commissioned painting (now in Victoria & Albert Museum).
1802: Painted Dedham Vale (V & A Museum). His painting of Windsor Castle from the River decided him to go back to the landscapes that he knew and not fall into the trap of fashionable paintings. Took part in the summer exhibitions of the Royal Academy.
1806: Visited the Lake District. ‘Leathes Water, Cumberland (Tate Gallery) and ‘View in Borrowdale’ (V & A Museum) are the fruit of his trip.
1809: Met with Maria Bicknell, a granddaughter of Dr. Rhudde, the rector of East Bergholt’s parish.
1810: Painted Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden and Flower Garden (both paintings in Ipswich Museum). ‘Willy Lot’s House’ a sketch of oil on paper (V & A Museum).
1811: Went to Salisbury at the invitation of Bishop John Fisher. Start of a profound friendship. Continued to sketch; ‘Flatford Mill from a Lock on the Stour' and ‘Barges on the Stour’ date from this period.
1812: Numerous studies and sketches from real life, including ‘Landscape with double Rainbow’ (V & A Museum).
1815: ‘Boat Building near Flatford Mill’ (V & A Museum).
1816: Was married to Maria Bicknell by Bishop Fisher, despite the opposition of her grandfather Dr. Rhudde and after the death of his parents. The famous ‘Portrait of Maria Bicknell’ dates from this year (Tate Gallery). Painted Weymouth Bay during honey moon in Osmington.
1818: Painted commissioned portraits, the last of which was that of ‘Mrs. Andrews’. During the summer he painted at Hampstead Heath, his summer residence.
1817: Started the large painting of ‘Flatford Mill on the River Stour’. From this year painted one large canvas every year for exhibition in the Royal Academy.
1819: Was elected Associate member of Royal Academy. Painted ‘Waterloo Bridge from Whitehall Steps (V & A Museum).
1820: Painted ‘Trees near Hampstead Parish’. Constable loved trees and during a conference talked of ‘the death of a tall and elegant ash-tree’ of whom he had made a portrait when young and healthy’. 'Salisbury Cathedral from the River’ (National Gallery).
He was discovered by Gericault and Charles Nodier during their trip to England in 1820.
1821-1822: Made numerous studies of clouds (V & A Museum and Tate Gallery) and had learned to predict the weather from cloud cumuli. Executed the sketch for the ‘Hay Wain’ and showed the six-foot finished work under the title ‘Landscape: Noon’ in the Royal Academy Summer exhibition of 1821, where it made little impact. Made a series of paintings at Salisbury 'The Close Wall’ (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and Hampstead ‘Hampstead looking West’ or ‘The Grove with the Admiral’s House’ (Tate Gallery), ‘Building on Rising Ground near Hampstead’, ‘Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead’ both in the V & A Museum.
1823: Made 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden’. He painted the cathedral several times and had one of them sent back by the Bishop who did not approve of the dark clouds hovering over the Cathedral. But Constable shared a profound friendship both with the Bishop and, later, with his son.
1824: At the initiative of the French art dealers Arrowsmith and Schroth, three of his paintings (amongst which the finished ‘Hay Wain’ and ‘A view of the Stour near Dedham’) were exhibited in the Paris Salon and caused a sensation; he was awarded the gold medal, and inspired French artists such as Delacroix. He did not travel personally to France to pick up his medal due to the illness of his wife Maria (who suffered from tuberculosis), but spent the summer of 1824 in Brighton where the weather was supposedly more suitable for his wife's health. That summer he made several seascapes of Brighton Beach; some were so beautiful they aroused Turner’s indignation, who felt that Constable had encroached on his territory.
1825: Exhibited ‘The Leaping Horse’ at the Royal Academy, London, and made several cloud studies such as ‘Rain clouds’ near Brighton (Royal Academy). ‘The White Horse’ was exhibited in Lille, France, for which Constable was awarded another gold medal.
1826: The ‘Cornfield’ (National Gallery) dates from this year. A small study of the little boy who is drinking from the stream is now in the ‘Tate Gallery’.
1827: Painted 'Marine Parade and Chain Pier at Brighton' (1824-27) Tate Gallery.
1828: Painted ‘The Dedham Vale’ (National Gallery of Scotland). An earlier version made in 1802 is often contrasted with this version. ‘The Glebe Factory’ is also from this date (Tate Gallery) and the ‘Hampstead Heath: Branch Hill Pond’. Wife Maria died on 23rd November, 1828
1829: Painted Hadleigh Castle and exhibited it at the Royal Academy. He was elected a full Royal Academician.
1830-32:
Published a series of etching reproductions of his paintings.
1833-36: Gave his lectures on the history of landscape painting at Hampstead and at the Royal Institution.
1837: Died suddenly on the 31st March. His seven children donated most of his work to the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Royal Academy of Art and the National Gallery.


Database & Books on Lucian Freud and John Constable

Art Lovers Paris
January 2003