Constable: The Making of a Master

I went to see the V&A’s Constable exhibition.   Its premise is that he was not so much a naturalistic painter, as he has traditionally been regarded, but more someone who based his practice on the close study and imitation of old master paintings.   It is certainly true that he was deeply influenced by George Beaumont, the painter and landed gentleman whose collection formed the basis of the National Gallery (and who incidentally gave the Michelangelo Tondo to the Royal Academy).   At the Royal Academy Schools, he would have been encouraged to study old master prints in the library and he also collected prints voraciously.   But he also reacted to these disciplines by undertaking what he described as ‘pure and unaffected representations from nature’.   If some of his skills were learned by copying, as is very clearly demonstrated by the exhibition, this doesn’t negate the incredible freshness of his observations from nature, his drawings of clouds and watercolours of Old Sarum.

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