John Constable, an English painter, was a significant player in landscape painting in England in the 19th century. Born on June 11, 1776, John is most famous for his paintings that depicted the English countryside. Constable often painted where he came from, River Stour, and over time, it came to be described as ‘Constable country. Constable died in May 1837.
Constable was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps. Still, after meeting the renowned connoisseur Sir George Beaumont in 1795 and then a group of antiquarians and connoisseurs in Edmonton in 1796, he was motivated to embrace art. So, with his father’s grudging consent, he made himself known to influential academician Joseph Farington in February 1799, and in March, he enrolled in the famed Royal Academy schools.
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In this article, we will be exploring one of his most famous paintings, The Hay Wain- a painting that was voted the second most-loved painting on a BBC poll. For decades after the painting was first unveiled in 1821, it has remained a significant attraction to tourists to Suffolk town. In its time, The Hay Wain was notably deeply political and gave imagery to the happenings of that period.
Constable’s Emotional Rural Affiliations
Constable can’t be criticized for seeking to impress art purchasers when depicting his country’s environment. However, in the 1820s, nobody in England at that time was interested in his vision of rustic beauty.
Constable’s decision to portray these scenarios was most likely an emotional reaction to a predicament he couldn’t control or comprehend. He painted images from his pleasant childhood days that he could envision in his head. His love for images of nature and the outdoors never faded throughout his life.
John Constable paintings are characterized by a deep-seated class terror of farmworkers, which he depersonalizes by blending them into the scenery. Look attentively at the characters in the painting, The Hay Wain; no character has distinguishable characteristics, and the farm laborers are nothing more than white blobs in the backdrop. The dog is more detailed than the people.
Constable’s emotional perception of the developing conflict between landowners and their laborers and his inner sympathies towards the latter can be interpreted through the distance of the farm laborers from the foreground in The Hay Wain.
England During The 1820s
Constable painted The Hay Wain during a period of social unrest in the English countryside and his preoccupation with landscape painting. However, he avoided addressing the former throughout his life, thereby creating landscapes that depicted nature but not humanity’s role in its creation.
In other words, in The Hay Wain, he didn’t give the complete story.
Constable was painting during a time when the evening sky of his native village in Suffolk was practically lighted up with the glow of burning grain stocks set alight by dissatisfied laborers, which is impossible to imagine from the painting.
Rising costs generated the perfect storm, the Church’s high tithes forced on the impoverished, and the unpredictability of seasonal farm work. Those who couldn’t find a job were forced to live on substandard food and a bread allotment that was even lower than convicts.
While some workers left communities in the autumn to work on herring fishing fleets at Lowestoft and other ports in East Anglian, others remained imprisoned in their villages. By law, farm laborers were barred from moving outside their birthplaces, and minor social infractions (such as hunting bunnies) may result in lengthy transportation. In a Catch-22 situation, the poor were caught in the middle. A game license was only available to the wealthy, so the poor were excluded.
Highlights Of The Painting
The river is the main point of the artwork, including a hay wagon or hay wagon, two farm employees doing nothing, a woman bathing, and a fisherman. Finally, we can just see a bunch of agricultural laborers making hay across the fields.
The tiny brook in the foreground expands out to make a ford, the hay cart comes to a halt for the horses to cool off and drink, and the horses’ harnesses are embellished with red tassels. The red roof of the cottage on the left, in the front of which a woman is bending to fill her pitcher, contrasts nicely with the dark trees that cast a deep shadow on the path on the opposite side of the water. The Constable family owns the mill behind it.
A fisherman stands by his punt, partially hidden by a bush, like a duck floats by on the right side. The ripple and flow of the water, the masses of white clouds moving across the sky, and the darker ones on the left, an indication of an incoming shower, are all well-represented. A dog by the bank barks at the hay cart, contributing to the picturesque rural scene’s ambiance.
Constable’s innovative utilization of paint and the meticulous selection of colors give the work its power to impress. He used a variety of techniques to apply his paint, including quick and lengthy strokes and rough and smooth strokes. This resulted in a wide range of textures. The color scheme is subdued, consisting primarily of greens and browns (asides from the sky).
Color And Lighting
The only source of light in the artwork is the cloudy sky. The clouds scatter and filter the light, with patches of bright sunlight illuminating the grass in the distance.
The artwork is dark overall, especially compared to other high-key Impressionist masterpieces I frequently discuss. The painting is seen in grayscale below. You can virtually divide the picture into two value groupings, one for the land and the sky. Note how the values in these two sections are tightly compressed—this is an excellent technique to make the composition simpler.
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The sun appears to be high on the right side of the painting, as evidenced by the light reaching the cottage’s side. The greater clarity and luminosity in the sky in that area reinforces this.
The picture appears to be very refined and realistic at first glance. However, if you look carefully, you’ll find that Constable’s brushwork is reasonably rough and painterly. The painting’s massive scale gives it the appearance of being more beautifully depicted than it is. When painting on a massive scale like this, you can include more information without needing to paint in intricate detail.
Blending, rich scumbled color, and elaborate linework were among the methods and strokes used by Constable.
Constable seems to have painted a black foundation for the trees and leaves, over which he scrambled comparatively light green and yellow tones. The ultimate effect is a vibrant, natural-looking surface with various colors and textures. A recurring feature throughout the artwork is the employment of thin paint for the darker colors and thick paint for the lighter ones.
Soft edges and what looked to be a smooth texture were painted on the tree trunks and branches. This lets them blend in with the surrounding foliage. Take note of the linework on the smaller tree branches as well.
The Hay Wain is probably one of John Constable’s most significant works. We have the privilege to analyze and examine this masterpiece even a couple of centuries after, and it still stands out. If you would like to learn about painter John Constable, you can read up more on the internet.