Amy Beth Wright
Art in America, January 9, 2019
Princeton University Art Museum Brings John Constable’s Vibrant Art to the East Coast
John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum
Affords New Insights into Process and the Meaning of Modern Landscape Painting
March 17 – June 10, 2012
PRINCETON, NJ – The Princeton University Art Museum is pleased to present John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum from March 17 through June 10, 2012. This compelling, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition of 85 paintings, oil sketches, watercolors and drawings offers a rare insight into the revolutionary working processes of John Constable (1776–1837), England’s foremost landscape painter, who took his paint box out into the countryside, ultimately paving the way for the avant-garde French artists of the 1870s and changing the course of modern art. The Princeton University Art Museum is the first of only two North American venues for this exhibition, the most ambitious look at Constable’s work to be held in the United States in a generation.
John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museumtraces the evolution of Constable’s brilliant, fluid landscape painting style, rooted in the artist’s meticulous observation of the British countryside he knew intimately from childhood. To faithfully capture shifting effects of color and light, Constable became a master of the quick oil sketch, painting rapidly outdoors on sheets of paper or scraps of canvas pinned to the lid of his paint box. He then used these sketches as source material for fully realized exhibition landscapes, painted in his London studio. Well aware of the new theories on the natural sciences emerging during the English Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century, Constable declared, “Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature.” To this end, he generally inscribed his oil sketches with the exact date, location and weather conditions in which they were made. But to think of these studies as merely provisional works of art is to misunderstand both their complexity and their revolutionary character as improvised works, brimming with color, open brushwork, and a sense of spontaneity that allows them to be seen as “modern” even in the 21st century. Indeed, in 1821, 53 years before the first French Impressionist exhibition in 1874, Constable wrote “But I should paint my own places best—painting is but another word for feeling.”
The exhibition begins in 1800 with Constable’s first paintings of the lush farmlands of his boyhood home—the now-canonical “Constable Country” of Suffolk and Essex— and progresses through the artist’s career, presenting works grouped according to the locations he would come to immortalize—the Stour River valley, Hampstead Heath, the Salisbury plains, and Brighton beach—all seen through the lens of his close observations from nature. At the heart of the exhibition are two vibrant full-scale studies for two of Constable’s most celebrated exhibition paintings: The Hay Wain (1821) and The Leaping Horse (1825). These important oil sketches—each nearly six feet wide—have recently been cleaned to reveal fascinating subtleties of color and brushwork for the first time in living memory.
“We are thrilled to be working in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in presenting their unparalleled holdings of this extraordinary artist and to ask audiences to reconsider the ways in which this artist challenged the very notion of painting,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward. “This exhibition is not only a feast of great painting but an opportunity to rediscover the work of a beloved master in a new light.”
John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by V&A Publishing, available in the Princeton University Art Museum Store.
The exhibition has been organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The exhibition at Princeton has been made possible by an anonymous benefactor, and by Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Support was also provided by Duane E. Wilder, Class of 1951, and the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund. Additional funding was provided by the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.
About the Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the world’s greatest museums of art and design, with collections unrivalled in their scope and diversity. It houses more than 3,000 years’ worth of artifacts from many of the world’s richest cultures including ceramics, furniture, fashion, glass, jewelry, metalwork, photographs, sculpture, textiles and paintings.About the Princeton University Art Museum Founded in 1882, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the nation’s leading art museums. Its collections feature more than 72,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary, and concentrating geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The Museum’s collections are particularly strong in Chinese painting and calligraphy, art of the ancient Americas, and pictorial photography.
Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. The Museum is intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, offering a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art, and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.
The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Free highlight tours of the collections are given every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.
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