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John Constable (1776-1837) : The Mezzotints

John Constable is recognised as one of England’s greatest romantic landscape artists. Born in Suffolk he is principally known for his paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home, now affectionately referred to as ‘Constable Country’. He once famously wrote ‘I should paint my own places best’.

In the late 1820s Constable became aware of the artistic possibilities of the medium of mezzotint and he decided to start publishing prints of his paintings, hoping to introduce his critically acclaimed views of the English landscape to a wider audience. This became a reality upon his 1829 meeting of the young engraver David Lucas (1802-1881). By way of trial Lucas made two small prints, ‘Approaching Storm’ and ‘Departing Storm’. Constable was so impressed by the results that together they embarked on a series of mezzotints to be published as ‘Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery’ now acknowledged as one of the greatest examples of a collaboration between artist and printmaker in the history of printmaking. Constable would explain his ideas to Lucas and provide the initial conception for each image, Lucas would then interpret his ideas onto a preliminary plate which Constable then altered, retouched and commented upon until the print was considered complete. The medium of mezzotint was especially suited to the project of illustrating ‘the chiaroscuro of nature’ due to the development of the image from dark to light and the wide range of velvety tones possible through this medium. The mezzotints are based on a wide range of oil sketches and finished paintings which Constable had created over the course of his career.

This exhibition comprises over fifty prints from various publications. The majority come from the already discussed series of twenty-two mezzotints published in five parts between June 1830 and July 1832 as ‘Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery’ - we have many of these in rare proof form as well as an almost complete set of the published prints. There are also single published examples of ‘The Proposed Appendix to English Landscape Scenery’ issued by Moon in 1838 as well as some of Lucas’s ‘Large Single Prints’ and prints from Lucas’s ‘A New Series of Engravings, illustrative of English Landscape, from Pictures of John Constable’ published in 1846.

Examples of these mezzotints can be found in museum collections across the globe including the Tate Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The British Museum, The Fitzwilliam Museum & The Royal Academy. Prices start at £600.

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Constable, John (1776-1837), 'Spring (East Bergholt Common, Hail Squalls-Noon), Mezzotint, 1829.
Constable, John (1776-1837), Old Sarum (Mound of the City of Old Sarum-Thunder Clouds), Mezzotint, 1829.
Constable, John (1776-1837), 'Old Sarum. (Mound of the City of Old Sarum-Thunder Clouds)', Mezzotint, 1829.
Constable, John (1776-1837), 'A Summerland (Rainy Day; Plougman-Noon)', Mezzotint, 1829.
Constable, John (1776-1837), 'Hadleigh Castle, no 2. Large plate. (The Nore, Hadleigh Castle-Morning after a Stormy Night)', Mezzotint, 1830.
Constable, John (1776-1837), 'Jacques and the Wounded Stag', Mezzotint, 1830.
Constable, John (1776-1837), 'A Sea Beach, Brighton (Heavy Surf-Windy Noon)', Mezzotint, 1830.
Constable, John (1776-1837), 'Yarmouth, Norfolk (-Morning Breeze)', Mezzotint, 1830.
Constable, John (1776-1837), 'A Lock on the Stour (Head of a Lock on the Stour.-Rolling Clouds)', Mezzotint, 1830.
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