This article comes to us from Laura Desouza, who is a curator currently studying MA Curating at The University of Kent. She holds a BA hons Degree in History. She currently voluntarily works for The East Grinstead Museum and is involved with creating a new exhibition at the University of Kent’s Studio 3 Gallery.
‘Constable: The Making of a Master’
The spellbinding and headlining exhibition; ‘Constable: The Making of a Master’, recently opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum following on from a successful tour of Constable’s oil sketches in 2012. Its curator Dr Mark Evans has adopted a fresh new approach to the artist and his works. Until this point it has always been presumed that Constable worked directly from nature and in some circumstances he did, however, this new reassessment of Constable’s work challenges the notion that he was just a ‘natural painter.’ The exhibition demonstrates the extent to which his artworks were shaped by artistic tradition and influenced by the art of ‘The Old Masters’. In the words of the exhibitions curator Dr Mark Evans, the exhibition ‘seeks to dissipate the illusory aura of autonomy’. It undertakes this by showing that Constable acquired his mastery through mimicking and imitating works, rather than from a straightforward encounter with nature.
The V&A have brought together over 150 works of art for the exhibition including oil sketches, watercolours, drawings and engravings. Included in these are numerous paintings by Gainsborough, Turner and Claude Lorrain, and all of these on their own are worth visiting. These artworks neighbour a number of Constables, in order to denote how Constable replicated certain elements of their work such as brush stroke and light and shade techniques. These comparisons were very astute but I often found myself desperately trying to prosperously compare Constable’s work to those of the other artists, unfortunately sometimes to no avail. An example, of these comparisons is Rubens ‘Landscape by Moonlight’; Constable simulated this with a big emphasis on the need to reciprocate the impact of light falling on figures in the night in his own adaption, but it was not in my opinion as successful as Rubens’ original. From my point of view, Constable failed to capture the light and shade within his version, his use of broken brushstrokes, often in small touches, which he glazed over the lighter passages, were not as successful as Rubens’ brushstrokes which created an aura of a sparkling light enveloping the Landscape. Claude Lorrain’s ‘Landscape with Hagar and the Angel’, on the other hand was depicted by Constable as ‘Dedham Vale 1802’ and Constable’s technique of allowing the brown ground of the canvas to show through and his style of painting the foreground with thin strokes and dabbing of paint made this artwork stunning . Constable’s imitations are good at getting an innovative approach into how light, weather and atmosphere are put onto the canvas, but if you are looking for like for like art work then this will not be the case asstable does bring his own emulation into each artwork with his brushstroke technique.
Alongside his paintings, in some of the rooms are numerous glass cabinets, harking back to the old ‘cabinets of curiosity’, and featuring a number of Constable’s sketchbooks. The detail in these sketch book drawings are definitely worth a viewing as the work within them was second to none; Constable’s detailing within them is a great testament to his work and studies of his surroundings.
Many of Constable’s most renowned artworks including ‘The Hay Wain’, ‘The Leaping Horse’ and ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds’ are shown towards the end of the seven meandering sections, taking viewers through a journey of the training and development of the young artist to his most acclaimed pieces. The V&A exhibited these famous artworks alongside the preparatory work that Constable had put into producing them. This work included sketches and first drafts of each of his famous works of art, demonstrating the depth of composition, colour, and light that went into each piece. By the end of this section you will admire him for the amount of work he put into all of his preparation.
This exhibition encouraged me to reconsider my assumptions of Constable, that his art work was dry, clichéd and in some cases lacked any interest in anything other than the trees and sky that were in the forefront of his vision. The exhibition has instead left me in awe of Constables work and the preparations that went into all of his art works. The work that has gone into bringing together this detailed, eye opening and wide-ranging exhibition is also incredible. Whether you think this exhibition is ‘good’ or ‘great’ will come down to whether you actually like Constable’s paintings but for me, Constable: Making of a Master is a great exhibition. My exhibition experience has made me fall in love with Constable’s work and I encourage everybody to visit it.
‘Constable: The Making of a Master’ is at the V&A until 11 January 2015.