• Uncategorized

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Constable

    It’s the birthday of the great English landscape artist John Constable, born this day in 1776 (died 1837). He was born and grew up in Suffolk, the son of a corn merchant who owned Flatford Mill (now an environmental center), and it was expected that he would take over the family business. But while still quite young he sketched the Suffolk countryside and eventually in 1799 persuaded his father to give him an allowance so that he could attend the Royal Academy.

    In 1802, he turned down the position of drawing master at Marlow Military College and around this time seems to have had a breakthrough regarding his art, realizing that his calling was as a professional landscape painter and rejecting the classical conventions of his training:

    For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand. I have not endeavoured to represent nature with the same elevation of mind with which I set out, but have rather tried to make my performances look like the work of other men…There is room enough for a natural painter. The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth.

    Although he visited the Lake District his first love, and the landscape that spoke most strongly to him, remained that of Suffolk. Unlike his literary contemporaries, he did not seek or find the sublime in “romantic” landscapes. In the words of his biographer, Charles Leslie,

    His nature was peculiarly social and could not feel satisfied with scenery, however grand in itself, that did not abound in human associations. He required villages, churches, farmhouses and cottages.

    In his lifetime his paintings were far more successful in France than in England although he refused to travel abroad to promote his work.

    In 1809 he met his future wife, Maria Bicknell, but her family opposed the match; they considered Constable a poor, unsuccessful artist from an inferior social background. Constable painted this portrait of Maria in 1816, the year they finally married.

    During their long engagement, ten months before their marriage, he wrote her this letter:

    East Bergholt. February 27, 1816

    Let us…think only of the blessings that providence may yet have in store for us and that we may yet possess. I am happy in love–an affection exceeding a thousand times my deserts, which has continued so many years, and is yet undiminished…Never will I marry in this world if I marry not you. Truly can I say that for the seven years since I avowed my love for you, I have…foregone all company, and the society of all females (except my own relations) for your sake.

    I am still ready to make my sacrifice for you…I will submit to any thing you may command me–but cease to respect, to love and adore you I never can or will. I must still think that we should have married long ago–we should have had many troubles–but we have yet had no joys, and we could not have starved…Your FRIENDS have never been without a hope of parting us and see what that has cost us both–but no more.

    Sadly, Maria weakened by tuberculosis and giving birth to seven children, died in 1828. Constable mourned her for the rest of his life and raised their children alone.

    Constable was fascinated by clouds and skies, and if you visit Constable Country you’ll see those same huge skies. He was the first artist to paint oil sketches out of doors, with free, vivid brushstrokes. (Left: Seascape Study with Rain Cloud, painted in 1824 at Brighton, where the Constables had gone for Maria’s health.)

    Check out this site from the Tate Gallery, UK, where you can compare modern landscapes with Constable’s interpretations.

    And here’s a lovely interpretation of Constable landscapes:

    What are your favorite Constable paintings? Here’s a list of paintings worldwide and a link to an exhibit of his huge landscapes that was on exhibit in the US a couple of years ago.

    And now, in a blatant burst of self-promotion:
    New website and contest at janetmullany.com and a chance to win a signed copy of A Most Lamentable Comedy in Pam Rosenthal’s latest contest.
    Plus today I’m blogging over at the History Hoydens about Jane Austen’s letter of June 11, 1799, and talking about Immortal Jane at Austenprose and Jane Austen Today.

  • Research

    Lavenham, Suffolk

    As you might have guessed, I have figured out how to upload pictures from my new digital camera to the computer. Here are some pics from my recent trip to England — houses in Lavenham, Suffolk. I love the colors!!! I’ve never been a fan of the greenish-brown brick that so many English houses have, so I just adore all the colors in Suffolk.

    And then the half timbering — there’s SO much in Lavenham that it’s amazing. It’s really like going back in time — except for all the cars, of course. 🙂 Though to be correct, I should mention that during my trip in Lavenham I learned that “half-timbered” is not the general term for these buildings — actually, “half-timbered” refers to the buildings in which the timbers are so wide that half of each wall is wood. (So most of the buildings people refer to as “half-timbered” aren’t. Perhaps they’re quarter-timbered? 32 percent timbered? 0.2119 timbered?)

    Ahem. Sorry about that.

    During the Middle Ages, Lavenham was a prosperous wool town. The wealthy merchants built these houses to live in — these were prestigious homes back then, and those with the most wood were the most admired. Even Queen Elizabeth visited Lavenham in 1578, bringing her whole court. (Wouldn’t that be nice, having folks like that drop in on you, expecting you to feed them all at your own great expense?)

    By the end of the century, though, the wool trade in Lavenham started to decline (perhaps Elizabeth’s court ate too much?) Eventually, Lavenham turned into a quiet little byway, no longer important in the economy of the nation, or even the county. This meant that instead of tearing down all these beautiful timbered buildings to put up factories and more modern dwellings, most folks didn’t have the money for serious improvements or modernizations — so Lavenham is almost untouched. There are over three hundred buildings in Lavenham which have been listed as being of historical or architectural significance.

    So: which of these would you want to be your house, or your Regency heroine’s house? (During the Georgian period, many of these houses were covered with brick — but our heroines, of course, can live in pink houses if we want.)

    Pink, orange, red, yellow, beige, white — what color would you paint your house? Would you have white-ish timbers, as in the bottom photo here (which is apparently how they originally did them), or would you paint or stain them black or brown? Or would Lavenham just be too colorful a town for you?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Cara
    Cara Kingwww.caraking.com
    MY LADY GAMESTER — Booksellers’ Best Finalist for Best Regency of 2005!

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