Of the myriad of landscape painters that worked throughout the 19th century, John Constable was one of the best. Today landscape painting is considered a beautiful genre that is noteworthy in its own ways. It is perfectly acceptable for a young artist to admit in an art class that they want to be a landscape painter. However, attitudes in the 18th century were very different. It was not commonly acceptable to just produce landscape paintings. They didn’t do anything, not like how a religious painting praises god or the saints and not like how portraits commemorate individuals and promote their social status. Landscapes, while sometimes pretty to do look at, didn’t serve a cause other than to please the eye.
John Constable set out to change all that. His work only received the attention it deserved when Constable was beginning to grow older. This was due, in part, the fact that he didn’t decided on a career as an artist until he was in his twenties. It was only then that Constable enrolled in an art school and began serious training. One of his most famous works is from the 1820s, a painting by the title of The Hay Wain.
The Hay Wain is one of Constable’s ‘six footers’. These ‘six footers’ were enormous six foot canvases that Constable acquired for a series of paintings. Constable hoped that both the subject matter and the tremendous size of the canvases would heighten his reputation and also heighten the reputation of landscape paintings and pastoral scenes at large. In The Hay Wain, two farmers make their way home in an empty wagon across a ford in a river. Trees hide the secluded cottage by the riverside. Across the water is a low lying field. More trees dot the horizon, lining the outer boarders of the field.
It is no wonder that this painting boosted Constable to fame as he had wished. The scene is very natural, not at all full of the sublime elements many painters of the day were beginning to experiment with and use in many of their works. Constable’s landscapes strive to distance themselves from all of that, instead bringing the natural world in which we live to the canvas and into the home. Constable painted many other landscapes in this same manner, such as Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds. In this painting the grand Salisbury Cathedral is seen through a boarder of trees which stand on either side. A small stream wanders idly by. Several cows drink from the cool, clear water and stand in the sun grazing on the ripe green grass.
Constable’s landscapes have touched the hearts of many over the past two centuries. He turned his dreams of boosting the reputation of the landscape painting from that of a lesser genre to one of esteem, and in so doing secured his place as one of the most well-known English artists of all time.