Constable: The Making of a Master

Exploring the hidden stories behind some of the artist's best-known paintings.


Video: art historian Jacky Klein introduces the exhibition, plus the Turner show at Tate Britain.

Born in East Bergholt, Suffolk in 1776, John Constable was the second son of a wealthy mill owner. Due to his older brother's disability John was tasked with running the family business after leaving school, during which time he became intimately familiar with the countryside around the River Stour. He would often spend time sketching the Suffolk landscape, which he would later say was what 'made [him] a painter'.

In 1799, following permission from his father to pursue art, he travelled to London where he studied at the Royal Academy. His training involved the meticulous reproduction of old master paintings, which helped the young artist develop a sense of composition and style. The display includes Claude's Landscape with a Goatherd and Goats and Ruisdael’s Windmills near Haarlem, which are shown alongside Constable's direct copies. This is the first time many of his student works have been brought together since they were produced almost 200 years ago.

Throughout his career, Constable believed in the importance of outdoor sketching and this was key to his working method. During the 1810s she began to produce expressive oil sketches and drawings in the open air, capturing changes of weather and light. His use of broad brushstrokes and impasto technique challenged established conventions of the landscape genre and brought outdoor oil sketching to a new level of refinement. Examples of his cloud studies, including sketches of Hampstead Heath and Brighton Beach, are on display here.

Unlike his contemporary JMW Turner, Constable did not receive critical success in Britain during his lifetime. Throughout his career he struggled to make ends to meet and was only elected to the Royal Academy by one vote in 1829. He did, however, enjoy acclaim in France where his works were exhibited at the Paris Salon.

In the final decade of his life Constable collaborated with engraver David Lucas to produce a series of mezzotints of his paintings – a bold move that would help to secure his legacy after death. The exhibition shows these prints together with the original oil sketches.

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Among the 150 oil sketches, drawings, watercolours and engravings, there are many of the artist's most iconic works, including The Hay Wain, The Cornfield and the Art Funded Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows.

The exhibition also features a previously unrecorded oil sketch that was discovered concealed beneath a lining canvas on the reverse of Branch Hill Pond: Hampstead.


Venue details

V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) Cromwell Road London SW7 2RL 020 7942 2000 www.vam.ac.uk

Entry details

£7 with National Art Pass (standard entry £14)

Daily, 10am – 5.45pm (Fri until 10pm)

Book online via the V&A website

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