John Constable is perhaps most famous for his traditional, Romantic style paintings of the English Countryside. Idyllic landscapes on large canvases that must have been pretty time consuming to paint; such as ‘The Hay Wain’.
So I was surprised to see Brighton Museum’s current exhibition ‘Constable & Brighton’ which features sketches and paintings that are so different in feeling, they could have been made by someone else. Constable and his family lived in Brighton between 1824 and 1828. During his time there he enjoyed sketching and walking on the Sussex Downs, recording the countryside and beaches as he went.
His beach paintings in particular have such life to them. Quick, expressive sketches of turbulent skies and stormy seas. Moody colour palettes and rough textures. Some of these beach studies are very small. He worked on location, pinning paper to the lid of his oil paint box, which can also be seen in the Museum.
I love the life and fluidity of these small paintings. They seem much freer than the elaborate works he is famous for. These scenes were perhaps not painted exactly as they looked, but instead how they felt, with exaggerated colours and angry clouds.
He was particularly fond of painting clouds and once said ‘I have done a good deal of skying’. He would often add notes to the back of his sky work describing the weather conditions, time of day and direction of light.
The term ‘Skying’ immediately reminded me of the album of the same name by British band – The Horrors. I don’t know if there is any relation between the two, but the video for the track ‘Still Life’ features beautiful imagery and the song now flows into my head when I look Constable’s clouds!
Finally, I especially love the paintings that feature little figures on the beach. Often hunched against the wind and breathing in the sea air. Having grown up in Brighton and taken many a windy stroll on the beach linked arm in arm with a friend, I feel an affinity with them and like to imagine that friends have been doing the same throughout history.
The exhibition ‘Constable & Brighton’ is at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until 8th October 2017. Admission is £5.20 for adults, £3 for children and free for Brighton residents.
Opinions are my own. Images are used respectfully but without permission from the following sources (named in the order shown):
Coast Scene with Boat and Stormy Sky – Brighton Museum Website
Seascape Study with Rain Cloud – Wikipedia Commons
Brighton Beach – via That’s How The Light Gets In blog
Seascape Study: Brighton Beach Looking West – Taken from Constable and Brighton Book