exhibit review: constable and mctaggart: A meeting of two masterpieces at the national gallery of scotland.
“Constable and McTaggart: A Meeting of Two Masterpieces” at the National Gallery of Scotland is a small exhibit that provides insight into the evolution of art.
John Constable was one of the great English landscapes. Born in 1776 into a wealthy merchant family, Constable intially struggled for success but by the end of his life, he had become a member of the Royal Academy and had achieved fame in Britain and in Europe.
The paintings that established Constable's reputation during his lifetime are polished works that follow in the tradition of the old masters. His inspirations included works by Claude Lorrain and Peter Paul Ruebens. However, distinguishing Constable's works from traditional landscapes was considerable emotion. “Painting is but another work for feeling.”
Some of Constable's most successful works were monumental paintings that he called “six footers.” These monumental works have impact not just because of their size but because of the aforementioned emotion that Constable put into his works.
His last six-footer “Salisbury Cathedral From the Meadow” (1831) is on display at the exhibit. The cathedral is seen in the distance with dark storm clouds surrounding it. While Constable disdained the traditional practice of altering nature to create an ideal landscape, he has added a rainbow that is not in the preparatory studies for the painting. Hope for the future after the passing storm.
In preparation for the paintings he exhibited, Constable would do oil sketches. These paintings are much more impressionistic with bold expressive strokes. They were never meant for sale or public display but rather were meant to be references, memorializing a particular scene or a cloud formation etc., for use in a future more polished work. As a result, the oil sketches were not exhibited until after Constable's death. The exhibit contains several of these oil sketches.
William McTaggart was also a landscape painter. He is sometimes called the “Scottish Impressionist.”
Born in 1835, McTaggart was a generation or so after Constable. Nonetheless, he was greatly inspired by Constable.
Constable's influence on McTaggart can clearly be seen in the exhibit. For example, McTaggart's “The Storm” is a monumental work of the size of Constable's “Salisbury Cathedral.” However, the style of the work is similar to the style of Constable's oil sketches with loose expressive brush strokes and impressionistic vagueness. Like Constable's, McTaggart's works are full of emotion.
The exhibit thus shows how an idea developed as a tool by an artist in one generation can be carried forward in a later generation to become the final end product.
Rich Wagner is a writer, photographer and artist.