Constable at the Academy


Constable’s Great Landscapes: The Six-Foot Paintings
The Huntington Library


The sketch is at first simply a great plan transmitting to eye and hand or arm the picture itself for reasons that will become clear. All of a piece, cloudy masses. Then it is seen as an instrument on the broad plane, registering a simple mass of light on field and river, say, in one or two movements. Finally the conveyance of a thought. This latter will have some consequences along with the elaboration of the plan. The light will be unaffected.

The Shakespearean method applied to Constable, in the absence of any precedents. The Borges map congruent in every respect with the nation on the same scale, requiring the same space to view, in fact. The tense darks under a silver sky are a receding plane of trees behind another, this is now a forest. The personage in the canal boat may be seen, regarding the spectator.


John Constable
The Leaping Horse
(full-size sketch)
c. 1824


John Constable
The Leaping Horse


The middle course is unchanged, as specified. Light as in Rembrandt.

But the action of specifying goes hand in hand with the correlation of the narrative, the horse and rider leap the stile that denies passage to cattle, and do this before and after the small tree at the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Royal Academy, respectively. The appreciable sense of weight in sky or wood acts upon the picture thus concluded, but knowing where everything is in relation to everything else, the painter is able easily to recompose without the slightest hitch.