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Petworth: The Legacy of a Master

A unique collection comes together for the first time ever at Petworth House in celebration of the inspiration it brought to one of the giants of British landscape painting.

After the huge success of last New Year’s Turner exhibition, this year Petworth House explores its links with Constable.

The works which Petworth inspired Constable to create have never before been exhibited together as a group – an omission Petworth House puts right from January 11-March 14.

Constable at Petworth, brings together more 40 outstanding watercolours and drawings, made around Petworth, largely done during Constable’s visits to the house in 1834.

Although Constable is principally known as a revolutionary exponent of oil-painting, Constable at Petworth reveals that later in life he was also a master of the watercolour medium.

The artworks are mainly on loan from the V&A and the British Museum and feature alongside other major exhibits from Tate, the Royal Academy, the British Library and National Museums Liverpool.

Highlights include rarely seen views of the house and park, as well as nearby picturesque villages such as Tillington, Fittleworth and Bignor.

Constable was clearly drawn to popular attractions, and the exhibition also features paintings and drawings of Chichester Cathedral, Cowdray House and Arundel Castle.

Importantly, several of the views he made in 1834 have been identified during the process of research for Constable at Petworth. For example, the V&A’s View of Downland Country has been confirmed as representing a view of the Surrey Hills from Petworth Park.

Constable was fundamentally influenced by earlier painters, and alongside the exhibition in Petworth’s refurbished modern gallery, visitors can explore two of the showrooms in the house - famously described by Constable as ‘that house of art’. The rooms showcase paintings from the collection that the artist would have enjoyed as a guest in the great mansion, including works by Titian, Gainsborough and Turner.

Visitors also have the opportunity to join guided tours to the Old Library, which is rarely accessible to the public, and a room where major artists of the early 19th-century, such as Constable and Turner, were often invited to socialise, study and work.

Andrew Loukes, house and collections manager at Petworth House and curator of the exhibition, urged people to book early to ensure they get to see the exhibition. Many people left it too late for the sell-out Turner exhibition this time last year, and Andrew is expecting similar interest.

“Last year was a big event, and we didn’t really know how it would go, but it just went down so well. I think there is a real audience in our area for serious art exhibitions, something already borne out by the great work that Pallant House Gallery does. We see Petworth as cornering the market for the early period.

“Everyone knows the connection with Turner, but there are other connections, particularly Constable. The third Earl at that period was exceptionally generous towards artists to the extent that not only did he buy pictures from them, he effectively offered his house a hotel for artists. They would come to stay, to draw inspiration and to work. As far as Constable was concerned, the third Earl even made sure there was a carriage for him when he was here.”

Constable visited three times: “When he came, there were already two or three artists here, as there often were. The Earl really wanted Constable to be here at the same time as Turner, but Turner was away on a job. They didn’t coincide at Petworth – though they met each other many times in London.”

Getting together for this first time Constable’s Petworth-inspired works was helped considerably by the fact that they majority are divided between the V&A and the British Museum.

“We have now got the lot.”

And the fascination is huge.

“Constable was primarily known as a great pioneering oil painter, which he was, but he was also an extremely-accomplished water-colourist and a brilliant draughtsman. That’s the enjoyment on one level, but another level is that we have a wealth of views of our particular area. Certainly in this connection, there is a lot to be enjoyed in the fact that we are seeing how an artist as great as Constable depicted our own landscape.”

David Taylor, curator of pictures and sculpture for the National Trust, added:“John Constable is one of our greatest and best-loved landscape painters, and the exhibition Constable at Petworth celebrates this quite extraordinary artist who revolutionised how we have seen, imagined and understood the English countryside, from the early nineteenth century to the present day.

“The National Trust is actively organising more art exhibitions, including displays of Old Master and contemporary works, and Constable at Petworth will reiterate Petworth’s important contribution to this on-going programme of events.”

Booking is essential for Constable at Petworth. For more information, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth-house or telephone 0844 249 1895. Adults £12, child £6 (prices include National Trust members).

John Constable (1776-1837) was born in Suffolk and is perhaps best known for his paintings of the landscape surrounding Dedham Vale – an area which became known as ‘Constable Country’ even during the artist’s own lifetime. This landscape is now owned and maintained by the National Trust (visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/flatford-bridge-cottage to learn more).

Although now regarded as one of Britain’s greatest artists, Constable struggled for recognition, and his freshly-naturalistic depictions of the English landscape proved too radical for most collectors. Although from a relatively-prosperous background, as the son of a wealthy miller and businessman and with a large family of his own, Constable did not enjoy good health for much of his life, and his condition deteriorated after the early death of his much-loved wife Maria in 1828. His visits to West Sussex in the 1830s, however, raised the artist’s spirits and inspired renewed vigour in his final years.

 

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