Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review : Constable – The Making of a Master at the V and A , 20th Sept 2014 to 11th Jan 2015

Exhibition Review : Constable – The Making of a Master at the V and A , 20th Sept 2014 to 11th Jan 2015


This major exhibition will reassess John Constable’s influences, techniques and legacy to offer a new interpretation of Britain’s best-loved artist. Discover how great works of art are created as Constable’s most famous masterpieces are united with his revolutionary oil sketches: expressive evocations of land, sea and sky that allowed him to transfer the freshness of the outdoors into his exhibition paintings.

For the first time, Constable will be presented alongside the old masters of classical landscape whose formal values he studiously assimilated. By combining the authority of their compositional ideas with a breathtakingly naturalistic vision that was entirely his own, Constable would ultimately transform the genre of landscape painting, and in the process shape the enduring popular image of the English countryside.


Visiting London Guide Review

This exhibition offers an unprecedented examination of one of Britain’s favourite artists, many aspects of his career are considered to attempt to understand his painting and his legacy.

In his youth, Constable went on amateur sketching trips in the surrounding Suffolk countryside, however it was meeting  with  George Beaumont, a collector, who showed him a number of Old Master paintings in 1795 which led Constable  to consider Art as a career. When he came to London in 1799, he enrolled into the Royal Academy of Arts and was schooled in the old masters.


The work of Raphael, Rubens and especially Claude Lorrain great influenced Constable’s early work as shown by the works in the exhibition which show the original and Constable’s interpretation.

However after two years of study he was keen to develop his own style, he stated  “For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand” , he considered his future work lay in landscapes “There is room enough for a natural painter.”


To master this particular genre , Constable undertook considerable research, painting oil sketches outdoors to capture the often transient effects of light and weather. The sketches in the exhibition show how Constable would try to capture the effects of clouds or rain. He also took time to consider the different aspects of the landscape.


It was from these sketches that studies were created which then could  act as a first draft for a composition.  Constable also made full-size studio sketches in preparation for an exhibition painting.

Many of these full size studio sketches were of such high quality , they were compared favourably to the finished painting.


The exhibition show full size studio sketches of The Hay Wain and The Leaping Horse next to the finished painting .

Although Constable often suffered from financial difficulties, he managed to build up a sizable art collection,  It
included 59 oil paintings by ‘Old and Modern Masters’ and over 5000 prints,  250 drawings, 37 books of prints and 39 framed prints and drawings.


A selection from this collection is shown in the exhibition which not surprisingly show Constable was intrigued by landscapes. There was also a commercial aspect , Constable’s copies of the old masters were a valuable source of revenue.

Gradually all the elements of painstaking research , endless sketches , studying the masters all formed part of an approach in which Constable could become the natural painter he desperately wanted to be.


Constable created six large scenes of the River Stour, including The Hay Wain (1821) and The Leaping Horse (1825),  which led to some of Constable’s greatest successes, when exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1819 and 1825.

It was a bitter irony that just as Constable enjoyed artistic success , he suffered personal tragedy when his wife died in 1828.

A financial legacy allowed Constable to consider how he could contribute to his own artistic legacy which led to him producing a set of prints of his own work . A number of these prints are shown in the exhibition which illustrate their quality but they did not achieve any financial success  for Constable.


This intriguing and comprehensive exhibition offers some insight into the working methods of one of Britain’s greatest painters. Although considered part of the Romantic movement , the exhibition shows Constable was quite scientific in his approach endlessly perfecting his approach.

In some ways this explains his relative lack of success in his own time, his pictures until late in life were considered unfashionable and were more popular in France than Britain. Even the Art establishment did not admit him to the Royal Academy till he was in his fifties. It was only after his death that many people began to admire his sketches, watercolours and paintings.

This exhibition will appeal to those who are interested in Constable and British Painting in the 19th century , it also offers a wider view with a number of  paintings by old masters and other British painters that influenced Constable.  It will also offer a considerable amount to anyone who is interested in the painting process and how a painter develops their own style.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like to find out more about the Exhibition or buy tickets , visit the V and A website here

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