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A fresh and lively biography of the revolutionary landscape painter John Constable.
John Constable, who captured the landscapes and skies of southern England in a way never before seen on canvas, is beloved but little-understood artist.
His paintings reflect visions of landscape that shocked and perplexed his contemporaries: attentive to detail, spontaneous in gesture, brave in their use of color. His landscapes show that he had sharp local knowledge of the environment. His skyscapes show a clarity of expression rarely seen in other artist's work. The figures within show an understanding of the human tides of his time. And his late paintings of Salisbury Cathedral show a rare ability to transform silent, suppressed passion into paint.
Constable was also an active and energetic correspondent. His letters and diaries reveal a man of opinion, passion, and discord. His letters also reveal the lives and circumstances of his extended family who serve to define the social and economic landscape against which he can be most clearly seen. These multifaceted reflections draw a sharp picture of the person, as well as the painter.
James Hamilton's biography reveals a complex and troubled man. Hamilton's portrait explodes previous mythologies about this timeless artist and establishes him in his proper context as a giant of European art.
About the Author
James Hamilton is an art and cultural historian. His books include Turner: A Life, which was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and A Strange Business: Making Art and Money in Nineteenth-Century Britain, which in 2014 was named Art Book of the Year by the Sunday Times. Hamilton has been the curator of an array of art collections and projects and is a Fellow of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.
"In this vibrant text, Hamilton paints a unique portrait of John Constable. Through skillful use and analysis of Constable’s writings, Hamilton takes a deep look into his subject’s life, including his influences, challenges, and tragedies, as well as the misconceptions that have followed the man behind the paintings. An intimate, enlightening look at an indispensable painter.”
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An eye-opening biography. This life of the celebrated landscape painter is full of surprises. The most fascinating pages in Hamilton's book come from his close scrutiny of Constable's canvases, [and the] magnificent color plates lift it on to another plane. They track Constable's career from the early portraits to exciting sky effects like the tempestuous Rainstorm over the Sea, painted in Brighton. Such illustrations make John Constable a treasure."
— John Carey
"An excellent biography. Revealing on the life, perceptive on the art."
— Independent on Sunday
“Absorbing. Hamilton has made judicious use of Constable's extensive correspondence and other writings, drawing deeply on these rich resources to bring the artist's own words into the heart of his book. Hamilton is particularly illuminating on Constable's early life. Hamilton is an astute judge of his subject's complex character. Constable may be a challenging subject, but Hamilton's deft use of his compelling voice keeps the narrative moving.”
— Susan Owens
"A wonderful new biography. Hamilton is fascinating on Gainsborough's experimental and innovative technique."
— Financial Times
“A biography as rich with colorful characters as any novel. As a biographer, Hamilton is a patient, perceptive portraitist, attuned to every swerve in the currents of Constable's life. Hamilton captures particularly vividly the timbre of relationships and the textures of Constable's day-to-day life. On a coach back to London from Suffolk in his 50s, [Constable] drew a fellow passenger's attention to Dedham Vale: ‘Is this not beautiful?’ ‘Yes Sir,’ came the answer, ‘this is Constable's country.’ ‘I am John Constable,’ he replied. John Constable: A Portrait will bring you as close as is probably possible to understanding what those four words meant."
— Sunday Telegrapgh
“Hamilton moves deftly between Constable's personal and professional life and the network of relations and patrons that kept him afloat, and he is just as attuned to the radical aspects of Constable's art. In his pictures, as Hamilton shows, nature does not stand decorously stand still but becomes a pulsating, living entity.”
— The New Statesman
“This beautiful biography captures its subject's enchanting, clever, argumentative personality with considerable grace. One of this biography's many pleasures is its descriptions of the wide range of people Constable liked or was interested in. The sense of London society and of the warm humans who populated it, not least Constable's wonderful wife Maria, have an almost novelistic quality.”
— The Spectator
“Gives us an account of the man himself in all his complexity, drawing on his vast correspondence and diaries. Hamilton writes beautifully and his style is so engaging that the pace of this mighty work clips along. Highly recommend.”
— The Field
“The Constable of James Hamilton's illuminating biography is a radical, an artist possessed of an ‘experimental burn’ to paint the skies and seasons in new lights. Hamilton is an assured and insightful guide. He upturns assumptions and encourages you to look with keener eyes.”
— The Times