‘Painting is with me but another word for feeling’.
So John Constable told Archdeacon John Fisher in a letter in October 1821. If you visit the latest exhibition at The Lightbox in Woking, you will be able to see Constable’s innermost clandestine feelings expressed on the walls of the gallery.
Constable was one of the first artists of the Romantic Movement to view landscapes for their own beauty, rather than as a backdrop for a historical scene. He created his art directly from nature rather than from his imagination and he resisted the fashion of the day to piece together elements taken from nature to form a classical landscape.
His work inspired a generation of French painters, including Théodore Rousseau, and several decades later the Impressionists, who painted outdoors and recorded the fleeting effects of light and weather, had Constable enshrined in French thinking as an artist at the helm of modern painting.
Constable painted the places he loved best, but his approach was highly unfashionable. It did not endear him to the Royal Academy, which objected to his refusal to elevate his subject-matter in the classical style.
His fascination with capturing beautiful shifting skies may have been in response to the evolving science of meteorology in the eighteenth century, as a generation of enthusiasts developed an interest in the study of weather from a scientific perspective. In recognition of this, there is a number of antique barometers interspersed in between Constable’s paintings in the exhibition.
Constable’s landscapes harmoniously resonate his passionate love of the British countryside, but in his own time his belief that one needed to combine direct observation with scientific understanding was nothing short of revolutionary.
The focus on Constable’s radical engagement with meteorology, and the exciting paradox of immortalising an otherwise fleeting skyscape is a joy for all to see.
‘John Constable: Observing the Weather’ is on at The Lightbox in Woking.