Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

usisape painter has

e memoirs of Lehhis friend

Sar) the more :25-be frivolous, THIS chiefly

natural and Dett. if we Satin and the

gration as - ripeturesque

pem of the 5 astebes itself To: ris actually 21 dl be suprests of two of her

to bis obsery: siri habitual

I of his Tes beral, through

de arrived at what is dentical with wison of the bard

a

ose not more from just perception than from the possession of

like idiosyncrasy. They resemble each other in discovering zauty and interest in the humblest and most familiar objects ; ad in an unswerving faith in the essential charm of nature under very guise. Thus the very names of Constable's best pictures vince a bold simplicity of taste akin to that which at first brought idicule, and afterwards homage, to the venerated poet. A mill, with its usual natural accessories, continued a favorite subject with the painter to the last; and he sorely grieved when a fire destroyed the first specimen that his pencil immortalized. A harvest-field, a village church, a ford, a pier, a heath, a wain, scenes exhibited to his eye in boyhood, and to the daily vision of farmers, sportsmen, and country gentlemen,- were those to which his sympathies habitually clung. No compliment seems ever to have delighted him more than the remark of a stranger in the Suffolk coach, “This is Constable's country." His custom was to pass weeks in the fields, and sketch clouds, trees, uplandswhatever object or scene could be rendered picturesque on canvas; to gather herbs, mosses, colored earth, feathers, and lichens, and imitate their hues exactly. So intent was he at times in sketching, that field-mice would creep unalarmed into his pockets. But, perhaps, the natural beauties that most strongly attracted him were evanescent; the sweep of a cloud, the gathering of a tempest, the effect of wind on corn-fields, woods, and streams, and, above all, the play of light and shade. So truly were these depicted, that Fuseli declared he often was disposed to call for his coat and umbrella before one of Constable's landscapes representing a transition state of the elements.

His fame gradually widened. The artists of Paris first appreciated his excellence; and it has been said that he was as much

65 the originator of modern French landscapes, as Scott was of French romance.” When he came in after a day's sketching, he would sometimes say, "I have had a good skying." His clouds best attest the rarity of his skill, as well in the lucent depths as when completely effulgent.

If there be a single genuine poetic instinct in the English mind, it is that which allies them to country life. The poets of that nation have never been excelled either in rural description or in conTHE LANDSCAPE PAINTER.

JOHN CONSTABLE.

Tue quiet and isolated life of a genuine landscape painter has seldom been more consistently illustrated than in the memoirs of John Constable. His letters, collected and arranged by his friend Leslie, open to our view an existence ideal in spirit, and the more remarkable from the absolute contrast it affords to the frivolous, versatile, and bustling social atmosphere in which it was chiefly passed. Indeed, it may be said to embody the most natural and characteristic phase of English life — the rural sentiment, if we may so call it; for to Constable this was the inspiration and the central light of experience. He first rises to the imagination as “the handsome miller” of a highly-cultivated and picturesque district in Suffolk ; and, since Tennyson's charming poem of the “Miller's Daughter,” a romantic association easily attaches itself to that vocation. To the young artist, however, it was actually a better initiation to his future pursuit than might readily be supposed. Two phases of nature, or rather the aspects of two of her least appreciated phenomena, were richly unfolded to his observant eye — the wind and sky; and to his early and habitual study of these may be ascribed the singular truthfulness of his delineation, and the loyal manner in which he adhered, through life, to the facts of scenery.

It seems to us that the process by which he arrived at what may be called the original elements of his art is identical with that of Wordsworth in poetry; and his admiration of the bard

[ocr errors]

a

a

arose not more from just perception than from the possession of a like idiosyncrasy. They resemble each other in discovering beauty and interest in the humblest and most familiar objects; and in an unswerving faith in the essential charm of nature under every guise. Thus the very names of Constable's best pictures evince a bold simplicity of taste akin to that which at first brought ridicule, and afterwards homage, to the venerated poet. A mill,

A with its usual natural accessories, continued a favorite subject with the painter to the last; and he sorely grieved when a fire destroyed the first specimen that his pencil immortalized. A harvest-field, a village church, a ford, a pier, a heath, a wain, scenes exhibited to his eye in boyhood, and to the daily vision of farmers, sportsmen, and country gentlemen,- were those to which his sympathies habitually clung. No compliment seems ever to have delighted him more than the remark of a stranger in the Suffolk coach, “ This is Constable's country.” His custom was to pass weeks in the fields, and sketch clouds, trees, uplandswhatever object or scene could be rendered picturesque on canvas; to gather herbs, mosses, colored earth, feathers, and lichens, and imitate their hues exactly. So intent was he at times in sketching, that field-mice would creep unalarmed into his pockets. But, perhaps, the natural beauties that most strongly attracted him were evanescent; the sweep of a cloud, the gathering of a tempest, the effect of wind on corn-fields, woods, and streams, and, above all, the play of light and shade. So truly were these depicted, that Fuseli declared he often was disposed to call for his coat and umbrella before one of Constable's landscapes representing a transition state of the elements.

His fame gradually widened. The artists of Paris first appreciated his excellence; and it has been said that he was as much the originator of modern French landscapes, as Scott was of French romance." When he came in after a day's sketching, he would sometimes say, “I have had a good skying." His clouds best attest the rarity of his skill, as well in the lucent depths as when completely effulgent.

If there be a single genuine poetic instinct in the English mind, it is that which allies them to country life. The poets of that nation have never been excelled either in rural description or in conveying the sentiment to which such tastes gave birth. What we recognize in Constable is the artistic development of this national trait. We perceive at a glance that he was “native here, and to the manner born." There is an utter absence of exaggeration, at least in the still life of his pictures, while no one can mistake the latitude of his atmospheres. They are not American, nor European, but thoroughly English. A great source of his aptitude was a remarkable local attachment. He not only saw distinctly the minute features of a limited scene, or a characteristic group of objects, but he loved them. He had the fondness for certain rural spots which Lamb confessed for particular metropolitan haunts; and, therefore, it was not necessary for him, in order to paint with feeling, to combine scattered beauties, as is the case with less individual limners, nor to borrow or invent accessories to set off his chosen subject; but only to elicit, by patient attention, such favorable moments and incidents as were best fitted to exhibit it to advantage.

In this way, few painters have done more to suggest the infinite natural resources of their art. Its poetry to him was two-fold, consisting of the associations and of the intrinsic beauty of the

There is often evident in genius a kind of sublime common sense — an intuitive intelligence, which careless observers mistake sometimeş for obstinacy or waywardness. Constable displayed it in fidelity to his sphere, notwithstanding many temptations to wander from it. He felt that portrait and historical painting were not akin either to his taste or highest ability; and that the ambitious and elaborate in landscape would give no scope to his talent. In his view Art was not less a thing of feeling than of knowledge; and it was a certain indescribablo sentiment in the skies of Claude, and the composition of Ruysdael, that endeared them to him more than mere fidelity to detail. Accordingly, he labored with zest only upon subjects voluntarily undertaken, and to which he felt drawn by a spontaneous attraction; and over these he rarely failed to throw the grace of a fresh and vivid conception. The word “handling” was his aversion, because he saw no evidence of it in nature, and looked upon her loving delineator as working, not in a mechanical, but in a sympathetic relation. "There is room enough,” he says, "for a

scene.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »