Constable, Brighton, Skying

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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.

Constable, Seascape Study with Rain Cloud, 1828

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.

john constable_brighton beach

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.

John Constable_Seascape Study_Brighton Beach Looking West

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

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Paul Nash, Monster Field

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‘There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed.’ —Paul Nash, Outline, 1949

I went to see the Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate Britain. It was an overwhelming show. A huge collection of his works including watercolours, engravings, large oil paintings, collages, illustrations and poetry from his varied career. I wasn’t overly familiar with his work before attending, though I’d perhaps seen a few of his more famous surrealist paintings.

I didn’t know that he was a war artist in both World Wars. That he began his career as an illustrator. That he took a major role in organising the International Surrealist Exhibition in London 1936. I’m very keen to get my hands on his autobiography and learn more about him, but for now I wanted to share a couple of the pieces from the show that chimed with me.

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Nash felt a strong connection to certain places. In 1938 he discovered ‘Monster Field’ a place where large fallen trees seemed to him to resemble beast-like creatures. He enjoyed returning there, though in a letter from the time he wrote that he had trouble remembering exactly how to find it. It seems to me he enjoyed the atmosphere of this field and those tree-creatures. They inspired him and he documented them in photos and a series of paintings. The branches reach out like tentacles and jagged shards of bark look like teeth.

I can relate to Nash’s Monster Field, some places have something very evocative about them. I have my own spots that can make me feel blissfully happy and serene, others that creep me up or that I feel strangely tied to though I can’t always explain why.

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The other piece I particularly enjoyed ‘Swanage’ (1936) is a collage composed of photographs from Nash’s collection of found objects. Along with his fellow artist and friend Eileen Agar, they would place unusual objects together to create new and surreal encounters between them. Which they would then photograph, draw and paint. I love the muted colours in this piece. The shapes and forms, shadows and details that create an alien landscape.

Swanage c.1936 by Paul Nash 1889-1946
The Paul Nash exhibition is running at the Tate Britain from 26th October – 5th March
Tickets approx £15

Eric Ravilious, High Street

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I’ve been a big fan of Eric Ravilious the multi talented illustrator, designer, war artist and painter since first seeing his watercolours of the South Coast in the Eastbourne Towner gallery. Having grown up by the sussex countryside and beaches, I really felt that he was able to capture something of the spirit of the place. The rolling hills, the ancient, timeless feel of the land. But it wasn’t until recently, seeing his retrospective at the Dulwhich picture gallery and finally treating myself to ‘High Street’ his study of the different shops of his time, that I realised he’s one of my favourite illustrators and a big source of inspiration to me.

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His style is very distinctive, he creates texture and colour, building them up in layers. He is selective with his line work, using it to draw your attention, embellish and highlight important parts of the image. In ‘High Street’ Ravilious creates one lithograph for each shop and the architectural historian J M Richards writes an accompanying description, who works there, what they sell etc. As the book was first published in 1938 there is quite an unusual selection of stores, a theatrical prop shop, a submarine store, a taxidermists. It’s very hard to pick a favourite but I think my current is the the illustration of the ‘Public House’ (above).

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All images taken from ‘High Street’ without permission, Illustrations by Eric Ravilious.