Art Review- Wivenhoe Park, Essex. John Constable

John Constable - Wivenhoe Park, EssexThe artist’s idyllic depiction of this British landscape, Wivenhoe Park, Essex portrays the artist’s instinct for truthful observation and desire to capture particular sensations created by nature[1]. A sense of freedom radiates here in the serenity of the rolling countryside, with the crystal clear water in the foreground, and cluster of trees in the background, which neatly frame the piece. Originality for him, meant speaking in his own voice directly from his own experience of nature, and he did not want to imitate ‘the language and voice of others’[2], but to paint from reality. Nevertheless, his decision to depict this pleasant scene was a great one, as he has opened up his small world to the viewer, one that is magical and tranquil, forever to be admired.

The painting depicts the quiet atmosphere of a typical day in the park. The spectator is drawn to the herd of cattle, casually grazing on the fresh meadows in the front left corner. Perhaps Constable is acquainting us with the idea of the park as a place of functionality as well as pleasure, as it seems to unify purposes of both ‘idealism and utility’[3]. The two figures in a rowing boat fishing on the lake highlight this point, but also seem to remind the viewer of the simple joy and recreation that nature can bring, as that ‘gentle and unreproaching friend’[4] whom Constable felt passionately about, and shared an intimate relationship with. The sparkling reflection of the calm blue sky and trees in the still pool of water, shown by flecks and strokes of light grey colour add to the immobility of the scene, as two swans sit gracefully on the surface, animating the picture as they bask in the afternoon delight of the country air. The artist’s soft brush strokes on the cool lake enhance this, whilst his great execution of small details, such as the cows and people emphasizes the harmony between humanity and nature. The unity between the creatures and objects inhabiting this land, and the natural elements of light and air, provide the piece with such clarity making you want to become a part of it. These qualities of ‘ bloom and freshness’[5] were what the artist referred to as the ‘chiaroscuro of nature’[6], embodying nature truthfully which he believed ‘was the most important spiritual source of his pictorial originality’[7]. Here he has fulfilled his ‘sentiment of landscape’[8] affecting the viewer’s emotions through his work. His use of light and form were deeply involved with his sense of reality and feelings, and this was something, which was to carry on throughout his profession and gain control over his works.[9]

The countryside of Southern England where he grew up became the heart of many of Constable’s works, in his desire to portray it from true feelings, and struggle to convince critics of its inherent significance. Arguably ‘England’s greatest landscape painter’[10], he has had profound influence upon people’s responses to the natural world, and can be said that he has been treated as a spokesman for England just ‘like Shakespeare and Dickens through their writings’[11]. His natural chiaroscuro of landscape could transform the significance of any place, however ‘common or inconsequential it might have been’[12], and his exceptional artistic methods, which defied the confines of any one approach created the honesty in his works that he truly desired. His Wivenhoe Park, Essex (1816) clearly ‘vibrates with the verdant essence of the countryside’[13] and reveals the profound connection he felt to the rural pleasures of the landscape, which will forever be christened as ‘Constable country’. [14]

[1] Basil, Taylor ‘Constable Paintings, drawings and watercolour’ (phaidon) 1973 p20

[2] Taylor p22

[3] ‪Karen. Jones, John Wills ‘The invention of the park: recreational landscapes from the Garden of den …’ (Policy Press) 2005 p32

[4] Taylor p26

[5] Taylor p26

[6] ‪James A. W. Heffernan ‘Cultivating picturacy: visual art and verbal interventions’  (Baylor University Press) 2006 p146

[7] ‪John E. Thornes, John Constable ‘John Constable’s skies: a fusion of art and science’ (University of Birmingham Press) 1999 p112

[8] Taylor p 27

[9] Anne, Lyles ‘Constable: The Great Landscapes (Tate Publishing) 2006 p121

[10] Thornes p1

[11] Taylor p21

[12] Taylor p26

[13] Heather Goss, ‘The Green Seen’: Head For Art 30.03.2010 http://www.headforart.com/2010/03/30/the-green-seen/(accessed 12.11.11)

[14] Gadney p20

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