Constable and Salisbury: The Soul of Landscape
20 May – 25 September 2011
Constable visited Salisbury seven times during his life.
This city and its surrounding countryside were to feature in more of his paintings that any other area, save his childhood home in the Stour Valley. While these Salisbury works have featured in every major Constable exhibition, they have never before formed a focus in their own right. Constable: The Soul of Landscape will explore the artist's friendship with Archdeacon John Fisher, and his relationship with the city, looking at those scenes " the cathedral, water meadows, the ancient fort at Old Sarum " that drew the artist back throughout his career.Including some 45 drawings and sketches as well as oil paintings and watercolours, the exhibition aims to provide a biographical context for some of Constable's best-known works, as well as showcasing some of his lesser-known. It also seeks to draw attention to the modernity of the painter's technique, exploring his handling of paint and his flexibility of style.
One of Constable's final exhibits at the Royal Academy in 1836 was a large watercolour of Stonehenge. Sketched on a visit in 1820, the preliminary drawings were described by the artist himself in a letter as 'beautiful'. It is, however, a work charged with melancholy: both Constable's beloved wife and his close friend John Fisher had died, and his isolation seems mirrored in the craggy rocks at the centre of this watercolour. The painting was originally hung with a caption, drawing the viewer's attention to 'The mysterious monument … standing remote on a bare and boundless heath'.Dominating the close of the exhibition is the magnificent 1831 six-foot oil painting Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows. While the sketches for this work are in the Tate, the painting itself is part of a private collection and only rarely exhibited publically. This late work gives a fitting sense of scope and stature to the Cathedral, such an important part of Constable's personal iconography.Related storiesNews story from the Telegraph about a rare Constable nude sketch discovered and up for auction last year.Video from the Guardian. The National Trust's Martin Atkinson discovers the exact point in Suffolk from which Constable painted the Stour Valley.Opinion piece from Antony Gormley about Western landscape art and the impact of climate change.Excerpt from The One Show: Martin Gayford discusses Constables influences.