Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Ba3 Portfolio Activity #1: John Constable

I was looking for a possible activity for my portfolio when I heard somewhere, from someone, that there was an exhibition of John Constable in Ghent and I knew on the spot I had to see it. OK, I'll be honest with you: it was one of the suggestions from the course-description-sheet we got on our first lesson and having no ideas of my own I decided to mix business with pleasure and asked my girlfriend if she wanted to visit Ghent with me. Romantic as I am, I first took her to the Museum of Fine Arts and then to the theatre to watch a movie in English.

The Museum of Fine Arts is a beautiful neoclassical building located near the “Citadelpark” which is a half-an-hour walk away from the train station. At the moment, it holds the John constable exhibition that includes paintings from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until the 29th of January. The tickets for the museum are cheap, when you are younger than 26 they only cost 1€. So you don't have an excuse for not dropping by when you are in the area. It holds a wide range of paintings and sculptures from the late middle ages up to contemporary art, so everyone should find something that fits their taste.

John Constable is a famous British romantic painter, he is also often called the “father of modern landscape painting” as he broke away from the aesthetics of his time and tried to paint nature the way he saw it. He was born in 1776 in a small town called East Bergholt, Suffolk, in the south east of England. In his early years he started to draw sketches from the landscapes around his home town and began to pursue art studies in 1799. By 1803 some of his paintings where already exhibited in the Royal Academy. He spoke out against the widespread belief at that time, that a painter should rely on his own imagination to draw paintings. For him, nature itself should be the main source of the artist. Thus, he only painted landscapes he had seen with his own eyes.

His method was to draw a first impression of the landscape he was seeing, in oil or in watercolours. These first studies where not comparable to the finished paintings he drew for his patrons or for the exhibitions in the Royal Academy. In fact, they were very avant-gardist for his time and were closer to impressionism than to romanticism and they inspired especially the French impressionists later on. His paintings show often very mundane scenes of everyday life like farmers at work, cathedrals and parks, which also brakes with romanticism that would focus more on epic scenery or gloomy ruins. One outstanding feature of Constables painting is light and the representation of the sky. He was very skilled at catching light and shadows in his paintings, with a very accurate feeling for light sources and moods. Some of his paintings seem very vivid and sparkling, even photorealistic. He is called the “father of modern landscapes painting” for good reasons.

Even tough I wasn't keen on going there in the first place, I was positively surprised and visited the exhibition with great interest. The beauty of his paintings is sometimes breathtaking and the pictures you can see when you follow the links I provided are pale in comparison. My favourite painting was the leaping horse (of which there is no good picture on the net, so you'll have to go and see for yourself). The exhibition will be in Ghent until the 29th of January so if you have nothing better to do: go and have a look at those beautiful paintings.

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