Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850


How are the landscapes of Constable and Turner different?

John Constable (1776–1837) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1776–1851) were both successful British landscape painters, and yet their styles and approaches to nature were almost completely opposite. After spending some time training at the Royal Academy School in London, but disliking academic convention, Constable dedicated himself to studying nature and searching for truth in his home village of East Bergholt, in the Suffolk countryside. In an attempt to garner respect for landscape painting, Constable’s canvases were very large. His painting, The Haywain (Landscape: Noon) (1821), is over six feet long, for example. His paintings are clear, detailed, and infused with emotion, which is expressed in heavy clouds, reflective ponds, and glistening foliage. Usually calm and pristine, Constable’s landscapes offer a subjective image of the manicured English countryside.

By comparison, Turner’s landscapes are a whirlwind of drama and dissolved images, and present nature as an overwhelming power capable of consuming man and his impermanent structures. Turner is known for his enormous oil paintings, as well as innovations in watercolor, particularly the borderline abstraction of his sweeping brushstrokes. Turner’s paintings were shocking at the time. His 1842 painting Snowstorm: Steamer off a Harbour’s Mouth, for example, depicts a ferocious ocean storm within with the actual steamer is barely visible, and it is nearly impossible to differentiate between the swirl of dark clouds and the thrusts of the thrashing waves. Unlike Constable’s careful, controlled nature, Turner’s is a monster.

In William Turner’s 1842 oil painting, Snowstorm: Steamer Off a Harbour’s Mouth, the artist shows the power of nature through rough brushstrokes and swirling lines. Paintings of nature, whether wild or tamed, were popular during the Romantic period.


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