Constable and the landscape tradition

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MaryAnne Stevens talks about the artists who influenced Constable.

  There is a lot of debate about where Constable's main interest lay as far as past masters were concerned, and generally speaking I think, rather than speaking of one, one's probably talking of two particular strands. One is the Dutch seventeenth century tradition, and in particular Ruisdael, whom he refers to on a regular basis.

  That gave him an interest, a taste for the natural, the immediate, the detail that you find in nature which, given that Ruisdael seemed also to be celebrating that in his own work gave Constable an authority which he could use to back up his own interest in such detail.

  But at the same time, and possibly marginally more important I would argue, was in fact the model of Claude Lorraine, the French seventeenth century landscape painter who worked almost his entire career in Rome, and basically created a form of idealised landscape, views across the Roma Compagna , which, sprinkled with antique remains, and often inhabited by mythical subject matter, or a celebration of the gods and goddesses and so on.

  It seems a very long way from there to Constable's so-called natural landscapes, but the more one looks at his later work, and I would say particularly his six-footers, these great paintings from 1819 to 1825, of which 'The Leaping Horse' is the last one, the more one is aware of the way in which Constable was stabalising these natural landscapes according to Claudeian techniques.

  Framing trees on either side so the composition doesn't collapse off the edges, giving the eye an obvious route of recession back into the depth of the landscape. All carefully controlled so that he's at one level saying, this is a natural landscape, this is what Dedham looks like, but at the same time saying, but it fits within the longer tradition of historical landscape painting, which is in fact an intimation of ideal nature and ideal beauty and therefore ideal truth, which resides in the landscape painting of Claude.






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