John Constable – Flatford Mill

Flatford Mill, which was bequeathed to the nation by the Misses Maria and Isabel and Mr. Lionel Constable, represents one of those quiet English scenes amid which the artist’s boyhood was passed; just a short stretch of a slowly moving river, down which one or two heavy barges glide sluggishly, and at the bend in the distance one of his father’s mills, in which he served his apprenticeship to the trade. The barge boy on the horse in the foreground, who is waiting while a man adjusts the towing-rope, the distant figures on the path and in the hay-field on the right, add those touches of human interest to the landscape without which the artist was never completely happy. There is little indication here of that bold and restless manipulation which distinguishes such pictures as The Leaping Horse, painted later in life, though there is a great sense of movement in the masses of white cloud, full of sunshine, which are roiling across a luminous pale-blue sky. All the details in this picture have been very faithfully and accurately painted. The slow movement of the clumsy barges, as they come floating down from the distant lock and the red-roofed mill-buildings, is admirably suggested. The group of large trees in the right foreground throws the towing-path into shadow, while between the trunks glimpses are obtained of a meadow dotted with hay-cocks, with the recently cut grass a vivid green under the sunlight. This part of the picture is very sunny, and glows with rich colour: The “sparkle” is little in evidence here, though there are faint indications of it in some of the trees. A faithful rendering of nature in her every-day habit was Constable’s one object in painting it. The horse and boy have been excellently studied, and the foreground flowers and weeds put in with loving care. It certainly contains many of the qualities at which he chiefly aimed all his life, and is fresh, sunny, and true–qualities which he has obtained mainly by the use of cool colours, blue, green, and gray.