John Constable’s Cloud Studies

Constable 1

Constable 2

Constable 3

John Constable produced most of his ‘Cloud Studies’ between 1820-22

My old friend Anthony Bevilacqua and I share an affection for the paintings of John Constable, particularly his Cloud Studies and other oil sketches. I have yet to see any of these in person and hadn’t looked at them in a while until Anthony sent the three plates above on my birthday last week. Coincidentally, my dad also sent me a beautiful little survey of Constable’s work published by Barnes and Noble in 1963, the year of my birth.

As a believer in the power of coincidence, especially when stacked, I took it as a sign to explore Constable’s work in earnest, having never done so. Though I lack any genealogical evidence, my family has always asserted that the artist is a distant relative so in some ways I’ve taken his work for granted. The book my dad sent, with text by the great art historian Phoebe Pool, provides sympathetic insight into Constable’s legacy and a few quotes by the artist that shed light on his approach to painting as a logical extension of natural science.

Although he worked hard to achieve recognition by, and acceptance into The Royal Academy, Constable was way ahead of his time on many levels and his best and most influential works may just be the oil sketches he produced throughout his career, particularly the Cloud Studies executed between 1820-22 in his native Suffolk. Here are a few quotes by John Constable:

“In such an age as this, painting should be understood, not looked on with blind wonder, not considered only as poetic aspiration, but as a pursuit, legitimate, scientific and mechanical… Imagination alone never did, and never can, produce works that are to stand by a comparison with realities.”

“If the sky is obtrusive as mine are it is bad; but if it is evaded as mine are not, it is worse; it must and always shall with me make an effectual part of the composition. It will be difficult to name a class of landscape in which the sky is not the key-note, the standard of scale, and the chief organ of sentiment.”

“My pictures will never be popular, for they have no ‘handling’ but I do not see ‘handling’ in nature.”

“We see nothing truly until we understand it.”

“Can it be wondered at that I paint continual storms- ‘Tempest o’er tempest rolled’? Still the darkness is majestic and I have not to accuse myself of ever having prostituted the moral feeling of Art… My canvas soothes me into a forgetfulness of the scene of turmoil and folly and worse.”

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