John Constable


For almost a half century I have worked to improve our 30 acre place. Trees are thinned, ponds built, weeds and bushes constantly attacked. The ten acres at the back of the place support pine trees and, like the rest of the place, provides pasture for beef cows. For years I brush-hogged sweet gum sprouts until they disappeared, only to be replace with bushes that made clusters of purple inedible fruit. For five or six summers I brush-hogged those bushes until they abated and were subsequently replaced by wild black berry vines. I am now 79 years old and I expect the black berry vines to prevail, although I shall cut them down each summer as long as I can.


Five years ago there was a drouth that killed may mature red oak trees on the second ten acres. The dead trees fell across the land providing much  fire wood and much more debris. I cut  fire wood, piled all the tops, and burned the debris. That mess was just finished when,two weeks ago, a storm blew over about twenty pine trees on the middle ten acres and six more red oaks. I hope to have it all clear by late fall. Yesterday I almost put my hand on the enormous head of a  six feet long snake and last night there was a skunk under the porch: the snake scared me spitless and the skunk made sleeping difficult. Spring has been so wet that after plowings the garden three time it is producing only nut grass. The planted corn rotted in the wet soil.

Nature, the Romantics felt, had two faces: the comforting, tranquil, and bucolic face and the ferocious, destructive, and vengeful face. Needless to say I have enough of the ugly aspects of Nature right here. Unsurprisingly, I prefer the art of the gentler Romantics: Monet and his water lilies, Constable and his serene paintings of the River Stour. Turner and his storms I leave to adventurous youth, in this piece I'll focus on a few sedate Constable paintings.

hay wain
John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821, The National Gallery, London

A few days after a visit to the National Gallery I thought back to the painting most easy to recall; The Hay Wain popped to mind.  Ten years later, it still pops to mind. Just because the painting is comforting and easy to consider, does not necessarily make it a trivial work. Hay Wain just may be one of the best painting by Constable. The same principles apply to the other selected paintings;  at first they appear boring, but after several visits they become touching. Often magic needs time to work.

                         Constable, Willows by a Stream


Willows by a Stream was rejected by The Royal Academy. They must have found it too commonplace, but after you watch it a while its charm comes through, although not as quickly as Hay Wain.

Constable, The Stour

Constable grew up on the border of Essex and Suffolk in a valley where the river Stour meanders through. He found his inspiration to be a painter from the river and the cultivated land of the valley. Whereas many of the Romantics found inspiration in wild mountains and raging seascapes, Constable was often content with barges on this river with its current slowed by locks.

cottage in a cornfield
  Constable, Cottage in a Cornfield 

At first the Cottage seems too plain, but then we notice the delicacy and sensitive aspects of the painting. This is a painting I could live with and never find it is complete.

Jockeys on Horseback before Dist

And two by Edgar Degas

After looking at a number of paintings by Degas, I selected two that I was drawn to. I do not wish to comment on either, but I will keep them here on this blog so that I may encounter them now and again.



Jockeys on Horseback before Distant Hills, EdgarDegas1884,


A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers (Madame Paul Valpinçon?), 1865, oil on canvas, The Met, New York