Last Week for Exhibition ‘Creating Constable’- Ends 24th April 2022

In January I posted a few comments about the ‘Creating Constable‘ Exhibition currently on at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. Along with many works by Constable himself and his Suffolk contemporaries, there are also sketches and paintings from artists influential and important to Constable during his formative years. However, something I did not mention in that post were the few 21st-century works by Suffolk artists currently working in Constable’s county such as this engaging work by local artist, Hayley Field.

‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’ – Hayley Field. Watercolour on paper.

Hayley Field has been painting the colours, light and landscape that can be see from her studio window by the River Deben since 2017. Below in her own words she describes her work and the process of painting colour maps.

I began making ‘colour maps’ nearly three years ago when I was working in residence in Mary Potter’s house and studio in Aldeburgh, as a response to the surrounding landscape. Once back in my own studio I began to make them of the view from the window, across the river Deben to Suffon Hoo. I gradually developed their format to become an analysis in one sitting of the colours I observed, making a vertical journey – river to sky or sky to river – including the water, mud, islands, river bank, land, trees and sky. I enjoy the complexity of understanding and describing the colours and the intense, deep focus it requires.

The pencil notes record the pigments I have mixed to make the colours, and the date. What started as documentation has become an ongoing, cumulative piece of work. I have exhibited it three times to date – each time in a different way – gridded, a section of the whole, and in a line.
During lockdown I have been making colour maps from a room in my home, with a view to the river Deben, through trees and across fields.

Hayley Field, article for an exhibition at The Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk.

When you take in ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, as a whole you can see that it is a visual diary, a year in colours.

The subtle changes across the watercolour map impressively detail the changes of hue resulting from the varying quality and type of light associated with different weather and the different seasons.

Detail from ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, colours for 18th June 2021.

Very much on a personal level as colour is central to my work, I find this visual record makes a fascinating piece. And, the delicate yet precise changes painted, for example, 18th June above and 26th September below, beautifully capture the essence and difference of an English summer’s day to a Suffolk day in autumn.

Detail from ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, colours for 26th September 2021.

John Constable -A Suffolk Artist

Last month I went to see the ‘Creating Constable’ exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.

Born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, John Constable (1776-1837) is known as one of the most important of all British artists with many of his famous works featuring the gentle countryside of his bucolic home county, Suffolk. Constable’s landscape paintings not only showed a new way to paint, but through sharing his visual interpretation he also encouraged his audiences to view the landscape in a different way.

I think this idea of a historical and different way of perceiving reality, as well as a historical way of viewing any re-presentation of that reality by an artist of the corresponding period, is more difficult for us to imagine than we realise. We are, after all, living in a time after the Impressionists, after the Post-Impressionists and after the Modernists, indeed, we now appear to exist in a time considered so postmodern much of our realities are viewed with deep skepticism. Please just hold this in mind as you look at the next two paintings and as you read the context for their creation.

‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’. July 1815. Oil on canvas. H 33 x W 50.8 cm

On show in this exhibition is a very special pair of paintings. In the summer of 1815 with the health of Constables’ elderly father, Golding, failing and his wife, Ann, John’s mother, having died earlier that spring, John came to visit with his father in East Bergholt. During the course of his stay he spent many hours in the fields sketching and painting. Two paintings produced at this time were ‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’ (above) and ‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’ (below).

Constable never exhibited or attempted to sell these two paintings during his lifetime. Although highly finished, these were private works, records of the landscape that was precious to him at a difficult time. I think this is a fine example of the difference between the sensibilities of the early 19th century and our ‘show all, tell all’, skeptical 21st-century existence.

‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’. August 1815. Oil on canvas. H 33.1 x W 50.7 cm

Returning now to the exhibition more generally it is possible to detect that Constable believed in the necessity of being skilful at drawing. A capability in the world of art that has not always been fashionable. At the beginning of his career Constable often copied from Old master prints, to develop his technique. He continued this practice into later life, collecting prints by Dutch and Flemish artists such as this copy of Jacob Ruysdael’s ‘The Wheatfield’ (below).

‘The Wheatfield’ by Constable (top) after Jacob Ruysdael. 1818. Pen and sepia ink on paper.

Of course, the exhibition also displays some of Constable’s original drawn creations such as this pen, ink and watercolour study of East Bergholt church.

‘St Mary’s, East Bergholt Church: the exterior from the South West’. c. 1796. Pen, ink and watercolour on paper. H 25.8 cm x W 39.7 cm

On the picture it is just possible to make out a faint set of pencil grid lines drawn in preparation for the transfer and enlarging of the church into the finished oil painting.

‘East Bergholt Church’. c. 1796-97. Oil on board.

Naturally, there can’t be a Constable exhibition without at least one painting that includes some aspect of Willy Lott’s Cottage.

I had just taken the above photo and was about to leave the gallery when the Gallery Steward approached me and asked if I’d spotted the kingfisher flying over the water in the Mill Stream painting. I hadn’t.

‘The Mill Stream’. c. 1814. Oil on canvas. H 71.1 x W 91.5 cm. The building we see is Willy Lott’s Cottage.

I paused and looked. And looked closer, and closer and squinted and eventually he pointed it out to me. There it was a brush stroke of red and two of blue, the kingfisher.

A sequence ending in a spot magnification (thanks to computer wizardry) to capture Constable’s kingfisher flying across the Mill Stream.