Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
A Great Oak Tree John Constable
A Great Oak Tree by John Constable.
In 1801 John Constable drew a chalk image of an oak tree. This drawing gives me inspiration because it is an outdoor sketch. The young artist was learning to observe the countryside and in particular, the form of the trees. Outdoor sketching, can be challenging thing but it is the only way to see all the movement that is going on from trunk to leaf tip. There is a suggestion that this is a tree that Constable knew well.
“I should paint my own places best”
John Constable conveyed these words to his friend John Fisher in 1821. Two hundred years on, we find ourselves forced back into our own localities. We could perhaps take inspiration from John Constables love of his own local landscape.
John Constable landscape painter.
For many people John Constable is the English landscape painter in the Romantic tradition. He was born in Suffolk and his early art work depicted the landscape around his own home, now known as ‘Constable Country’.
Constable began to paint seriously in his early twenties when Britain was on the cusp of the Napoleonic wars and the country was in a state of fear and great political turmoil. It is however at this moment, that John Constable chooses to paint an image of a benign nation, one that draws us into a state of beguiling tranquility. His images have remained with us ever since, a representation of a rural landscape, an observation of the natural world rather than a depiction of true rural life and hardship.
From Great Oak tree to landscape.
In 1802 Constable painted ‘Vale of Dedham’, one of his first major works. The element of close observation of nature can be seen, a sky busy with clouds and leaves on the trees that appear snatched by the wind. The trees seem to pin the view of the landscape and sometimes it takes a moment the look out into the landscape because the trees catch the attention.
Step back a year and see how Constable is looking at and capturing the form of trees in his drawing of ‘The Great Oak Tree’. This black chalk drawing with a grey wash is alive with all the twists and turns of the oak boughs and fluttering leaves. It is a simple drawing but shows us how Constable was building on his field observation, preparing for the landscapes to come.
Whilst the techniques that were to serve Constable so well in his later career are not yet fully developed, ‘Vale of Dedham’ shows his commitment to close observation of the natural world.
Include a sketch pad and pencil in your rucksack.
It’s time to be brave and have a go at sketching out doors. I think it will slow me down and make me more observant and the very act of drawing is absorbing and these days that’s no bad thing. Having taken inspiration from the Great Oak Tree, I will try and learn from Constables careful observation of nature and create my own walking sketch book. As well as taking up outdoor sketching why not plant an oak tree for future generations.