Constable's sketches and paintings

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Michael Rosenthal describes how Constable used his sketch material.

  Constable uses sketches variously, sketching fairly quickly became an end in itself, oil sketching from nature is something that's notoriously difficult to do, and he could probably only manage it because oil itself was becoming much more conveniently packaged by the manufacturers.

  Oil will reflect light, oil is messy and once he had achieved mastery in using the medium out-of-doors, and this mastery, I think, happens quite rapidly between 1808 to 9 and 1810 or 11 or so, he enjoyed doing it.

  So you will always have oil sketches which simply serve to record pieces of topography, particularly landscape effects.

  Then of course, in the classic academic system, if you are making a landscape you start off by making the sketch from nature, or you make a series of sketches from nature. You use these as the source material for a pre-determined composition so that eventually you produce a large canvas which is a synthesis and a summary of the knowledge and information that has come from those particular sketches.

  This happens early in his practice, and of course once he's moved to London and is making Suffolk landscapes in Hampstead, or in Bloomsbury, he has to resort to it again.

  In the meantime of course his urge to study from nature has not diminished in any shape, way or form, and once they're up in Hampstead in 1819, he is making marvellous oil studies both of the heath and of skies, and I think you could argue that these begin to feed indirectly into the canvases that he exhibits, through allowing him to incorporate non-topographically-specific knowledge about how skies illumine places into topographically-specific landscapes of Suffolk.

  Although by the time you get to paintings such as 'The Leaping Horse' topography is suggested rather than represented.

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