Constable's paintings and drawings of Salisbury and its surroundings have figured in every major overview of his work, but they have never, until now, been considered as a subject complete in itself. This exhibition will show well-known pictures in context for the first time, as well as giving the public the opportunity to see outstanding lesser-known works.
John Constable (1776 – 1837) made more paintings and drawings in and around Salisbury than of any other area, apart from the Stour Valley, where he grew up. Constable’s first short stay in Salisbury was in 1811, and he came to the city seven times. His visits to this area, and his friendship with Archdeacon John Fisher, were of great significance to him. One of his final exhibits at the Royal Academy was a magnificent watercolour of Stonehenge, shown there in 1836, and which is in this exhibition.
Constable and Salisbury will promote a fresh understanding of Constable as an artist. Viewers will enjoy this major painter – many of whose works are familiar – with fresh eyes. The exhibition will emphasise the immediacy of many of Constable’s works, and his often ‘modern’ approach to the handling of paint, and will demonstrate that he was a more adaptable artist than even he was prepared to admit.
Some forty-five pencil drawings and sketches in oil and watercolour will be on show, as well as ten finished oil paintings and watercolours. The climax of the exhibition will be the 1831 ‘six-footer’, Salisbury Cathedral from the meadows, lent from a private collection. The exhibits will concentrate on Salisbury but will also show other areas that Constable knew through Fisher: Stonehenge, the coast at Weymouth, the Dorset village of Gillingham, and Downton in the New Forest. The mighty edifice of Salisbury Cathedral and the abandoned fort at Old Sarum drew from Constable expressions of feeling different from the rivers and fields of East Anglia; and yet the light and the skies, shown in a group of ravishing cloud studies over the Salisbury water meadows, remain as constant, or indeed as constantly changing, as ever.
Lenders include the V&A, British Museum, National Gallery London, Tate, Ashmolean Museum, National Trust, Fitzwilliam Museum, National Gallery of Ireland and private collectors.
As the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum is situated opposite the Cathedral, and adjacent to the Close, where many of Constable’s works were made, exhibition visitors will have the opportunity to step out into the subjects he painted, which have hardly changed in nearly 200 years. The power of this experience cannot be over-estimated.
The Constable and Salisbury Project includes the exhibition; a specially commissioned accompanying film in the Museum; and the opportunity to explore the countryside and heritage in and around Salisbury that is represented in Constable’s paintings.
There will be special guided walks of the Salisbury area, showing Constable’s viewpoints, and tours of Salisbury Cathedral. If visitors wish to enjoy sites independently, leaflets and maps will be available at the Museum.
The guest curator is Timothy Wilcox, who is acknowledged for his understanding of this period of English art, and whose previous Constable exhibitions have been on special themes.
The principal supporters of the exhibition include: The Foyle Foundation, The Linbury Trust, Wilsons Solicitors LLP, Wiltshire Council and Woolley and Wallis Fine Art Auctioneers.
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