Foxearth and District Local History Society – Meeting 10th Oct 2017 – Report

The artistic connections between two painters and the Suffolk/Essex landscape.

This was a subject fully explored by Dr. Judy Ivy – Liston resident, member of the Society and university lecturer – in her talk to the Foxearth and District Local History Society on 10th October 2017. A large audience of about 25 members and guests were treated to a comprehensively illustrated exposition of the individual approaches that Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable had to the countryside of the Stour valley; the obvious affection they both had for the area shines through in their work.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury in 1727, the son of a weaver. Having impressed his father with his talent for painting heads and laandscapes he was allowed to go to London in 1740 to study art privately. One of his earliest and best-known  works is his portrait of Mr and Mrs Robert  Andrews – newly-married landed gentry – of about 1750. This is an unusual composition in that the sitters are outside, there is no sign of the house which would ordinarily have been included as a status symbol and half of the picture is concerned with the farm land as evidenced by the seed drills and the stooped corn.  Later portraits were more conventional but Gainsborough’s favoured subjects were landscapes and it is possible that the combination in the Andrews picture was to show off his preference to wealthy clients. Some landscapes suggest a dreamy side to Gainsborough’s character and there are even fantasy compositions. Thomas Gainsborough elevated the genre of British landscape painting and was a founding member of the Royal Academy.

John Constable was born in East Bergholt in 1776- one of six children. His father owned Flatford Mill and when he left school young John worked in the corn trade. He loved to take sketching trips in the Suffolk and Essex countryside and, although his family did not want him to become a painter,  in 1799 he persuaded his father to allow him to study at the Royal Academy where he was inspired by the works of Gainsborough – who had died in 1788.  Although Constable painted many fine portraits, he found this work dull; it provided a living but his real interest was in scenes of ordinary daily life involving villages, churches, farms, cottages, mills, rivers and such like.. This was somewhat unfashionable in an age that looked for a more romantic style. One painting, commissioned as a wedding gift, is a landscape featuring Dedham church in the background and farm workers in the front dealing with a large pile of manure! Constable was a persistent sketcher and many of his most well-known paintings like Flatford Mill, The Hay Wain, Willie Lott’s Cottage have an associated number of drawings from various angles. In fact Willie Lott’s cottage was derelict in the 1920s but was rebuilt with Constable’s paintings and sketches providing valuable guidance. John Constable was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1829. He died in 1837.

Judy demonstrated a deep level of research into this important piece of local history and warm thanks were expressed to her by Secretary Clare Mathieson. Both artists lived and worked at times in other parts of the country but the affinity which each had for the countryside in which they were raised endures in their beautiful legacies.

Next meeting: Tuesday 14th November 2017 7.30pm when Corinne Cox will talk about Foxearth and The Great War.

Ken Nice

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