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John Constable: A Kingdom of His Own

John Constable: A Kingdom of His Own

by Anthony Bailey

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The first biography of English landscape painter John Constable (1776-1837) since 1843, explores his life and work and highlights the dramatic tension between the two.


The first biography of English landscape painter John Constable (1776-1837) since 1843, explores his life and work and highlights the dramatic tension between the two.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Romantic painter John Constable (1776-1837) struggled for years to enter the Royal Academy, was constantly torn between the demands of family and artistic life and had a tortuous path to the limited success he did achieve in his lifetime. Bailey (Vermeer: A View of Delft), a longtime New Yorker contributor and prolific author, seeks to expose both the chiaro and scuro in the painter's life and work-a perspective, argues Bailey, left largely unrealized in the only other full-length biography of Constable, Charles Leslie's 1843 Memoirs of the Life of John Constable. The result is an intricate, intimate, balanced study, revealing the artist's moody, depressive, acerbic and often parsimonious nature along with his intense devotion to his wife, Mary Bicknell (whom he met when she was 12, he 24) and their seven children. Bailey's meticulous scholarship at times overwhelms with detail disproportionate to its larger relevance, and interesting issues, such as contemporary criticism of Constable, invite further analysis. Bailey writes with the elegant, carefully composed quietude of a Constable painting, and has crafted a sensitive and highly comprehensive portrait that will be essential for Constable scholars and very significant to general readers with an interest in the artist and his period. Color and b&w illus., maps. (Feb. 1) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Romantic art rebel comes in for thoughtful biographical treatment at the hands of New Yorker alumnus Bailey. It took the French to make John Constable (1776-1836) English. Which is to say, as Bailey notes, Constable worked for much of his life largely unrecognized, painting idyllic English pastoral landscapes that were dismissed as, well, mere landscapes. "But then," writes Bailey, "the French took him up-gold medals were bestowed-and the London art world slowly opened its eyes to what he was up to." Part of the trouble may have been that Constable, who grew up in the countryside and knew his farm equipment, painted landscapes with windmills that look as if the wind could actually turn them, something much too tame for the wild-eyed aesthetic of the Coleridge and Keats school. Constable also seems to have lacked a little of the tireless self-promotional gene that made his contemporaries and sometime rivals such as J.M.W. Turner so successful. For Constable, the kingdom of home and family was enough, and even though he did work and lobby endlessly to get into the Royal Academy, there is some suggestion that he preferred idling in the sticks to the social swirl. Bailey offers persuasive readings of Constable's work, which includes well-known paintings such as The Hay Wain and Salisbury Cathedral; many landscapes, he finds, are so alive that a viewer, like the painter, "could smell the mud and slime on the banks," even if some were dashed off, even incomplete. Well into his career, Constable paid to have his portfolio, English Landscape, printed, but he wound up poorer and not much better known; just after his death, some of the works that are most famous today sold at auction for a fewpounds. Yet, "despite the less than dramatic prices," the sale sent many hitherto unknown Constables out into the world. And so it is that Constable is known today, though this literate and lively biography adds new shades to the artist's well-earned reputation.

Product Details

Random House UK
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 8.81(h) x 1.31(d)

Meet the Author

Anthony Bailey is the author of two studies of Rembrandt and Standing in the Sun, a full-length biography of Turner. For many years he was a writer for The New Yorker. He lives in England.

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