One day in Constable country 2015
A personal account by Noel Mitchell of our coach trip to the Stour Valley.
This was my perfect
day out – and I will tell
you why. The sun shone
steadily as our full
wove its way along the
lanes of the
John Constable spent
his youth and the summers of his adulthood.
In my youth I spent my school days immersed in the Romantic poets, drifting time away in the art room, and learning of the making of the English landscape, and especially of rivers and their valleys. William Wordsworth was my preferred poet. In the early 1800s he wrote of the natural landscape of the Lake District in language that meant something to “the ordinary man”.
At about the same time the Romantic artist, John Constable, painted the landscape of the East Anglian countryside. Not artistic imagination but intimate and realistic portrayals of the countryside as ordinary people can still see and understand it today. This trip seemed to pull it all together.
"I associate my careless boyhood", wrote Constable, "with all that lies on the banks of the Stour. Those scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful."
And we were indeed grateful that Peter Lawrence, one of our members, thought that a taste of art history would be a good idea and volunteered to guide us through that part of Essex and Suffolk that has become known as “Constable Country”. It turned out that Peter has been doing this for fifteen years, during which time he has accumulated a wealth of interesting information and background knowledge, which he kindly shared with us.
So, at one particular viewpoint, we were asked to imagine the boy Constable galloping across the fields on his pony, on his way to school from his home in nearby East Bergholt. At another we saw the simple barn-like building acquired for him as a studio when it was finally conceded that John did not have to go into the family milling business. And lots more – bells and quays and churches and good places to eat.
Best of all was Flatford Mill, which was owned by Constable’s father. This is where he began; where he painted the mill, the daily working life on and beside the river, and where he painted The Hay Wain. Even in a crowd you can still experience the chill factor when you stand, you hope, on the very spot where Constable sat to produce the oil sketches that became his most famous work. I’ve been there before and I will certainly go again.