REVISITING A MASTERPIECE
REVISITING A MASTERPIECE
Art tutors ROB AND SIÂN DUDLEY visit the site of Constable’s The Hay Wain to share new and creative ways of painting landscapes made famous by an Old Master

We regularly spend several weeks a year teaching courses at Flatford Mill in Suffolk, yet neither of us has ever painted either the iconic view across the mill pond or Willy Lott’s House. It is a beautiful spot, and there is so much there that is inspirational, so what is holding us back?

Flatford Mill is a quintessential English landscape, made famous by John Constable’s 1821 painting The Hay Wain. The mill was acquired by the National Trust in 1943 and each year thousands of people visit the John Constable – Flatford: Life, Work & Inspiration exhibition and wander through the landscapes he painted. The Hay Wain is one of the best known paintings in the history of British art. And therein lies the problem.

It is very difficult to study the landscape with a view to painting it without having a mental image of The Hay Wain overlaying what you are looking at. There is also the knowledge that your audience will undoubtedly compare your work to that of the great man himself. Daunting thoughts.

Painting any such iconic subject, or referencing any well-known image, can be intimidating, subduing your creativity. So how do you avoid your painting being overly influenced by the original?

While any such iconic landscape could be tackled for this project, The Hay Wain is a great place to start, not only because the surrounding “Constable Country” provides so much additional inspiration, but also because Constable himself led the way. Apart from his innovative painterly techniques, his attitude to painting was exemplary.

Nevertheless, The Hay Wain was not at all well received at first. Although to contemporary eyes it may appear traditional, in 1821 it was highly unconventional, breaking the traditions of the Old Masters. Constable had studied them and learned a great deal, but he had his own ideas about what – and how – he wanted to paint.

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April 2020