Constable ’A history of his affections in England’ exhibition, at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo, in Marunouchi, next to Tokyo Station ( https://mimt.jp/constable/ )
John Constable (1776-1837) is one of the two painters – alongside Turner - who really brought landscape painting to fame in England. Of course, there were excellent landscape painters preceding them, but the dominant genres were those of mythological and historical painting during the 18th century. The Flemish appreciation for everyday scenes and landscapes wasn’t significant in Britain, until Romanticism took root – first in literature and philosophy – and people started to want to see representations of nature.
Constable painted several – eminent – portrays, but his most enduring works all show the places where he lived in England. Many of these paintings are centred on locations around his childhood home in Suffolk. He is also one of the first English painters who experimented with finishing complete paintings outdoors, in one sitting.
Several things strike one as remarkable about his style. Constable pays meticulous attention to light, and portrays it very well. Elements of nature, especially moving elements like waves and clouds are dynamic, lively and evoke feelings of a nice breeze or wind stroking one’s face. And while his paintings are overall highly detailed, he often leaves areas in shade or renders them somewhat blurred. This creates the illusion of being at the scene of the painting and quickly scanning the landscape, without particularly focusing on details of trees, bushes, or the ground. His paintings do not aim at photo-realism. He does not try to render things exactly lifelike. Rather, his pictures have the goal of grasping the mood and character of a landscape, and highlight some typical figures and activities taking place in it. Constable prefers to include peaceful, calming elements, like family homes, animals, and people working the land. This is the side of the country that he appreciated and held dear, and wanted to help others enjoy too.
While looking at his paintings I was at the same time reminded of my life in England, and surprised by how different some areas are from each other. The shapes of hills, the beaches, the little creeks and copes all show a great range of variation. All in all, the exhibition is well worth visiting. Constable’s paintings give one the pleasant feeling of appreciation for the details and loveliness of natural surroundings which the artist felt for the places he shows to us.