top of page

John Constable - The White Horse

by Alexandra Tuschka

That a white horse is to be seen, as the title of the picture tells us, will have noticed also the last viewer. It shines out brightly illuminated in the left corner of the picture and is the first eye-catcher of the picture. As so often, however, no story emerges from it. Typical for Constable we find here a snapshot-like scene from the rural area. No dramaturgy, no climax - simply the English landscape beloved by the painter. Here we look at the south bank of the River Stour in the countryside around Suffolk, where the artist was born. The horse is carrying the barge in the lower left corner along a towpath to the opposite bank. There we can already see the continuation of the towpath. Cows are wading in the shallow waters. Just behind the barge is a small island called "The Spong". The house of Willy Lott, which can be seen in Constable's "Hay Wagon", can be seen in the center left.

Constable, who had to push through his painting career against his father's will, strove all his life for recognition in the academy and was also in constant competition with fellow painter William Turner, who was only 1 year older and is still usually regarded as the more creative, more interesting and more unconventional of the two. There may be little that surprises us about Constable's paintings. We find far from an "ideal" landscape, as was common among Italian contemporaries, but neither may any element irritate the viewer. Rather, an immense calm emanates from these paintings. His best friend John Fisher described Constable's art with a lamb recipe, where lamb would be served as the main course, lamb as the main course, and lamb as the sauce. Constable replied with some confidence that he saw a nail in front of him and all he wanted to do was sink it into the board.

This work is the first of the so-called "six-footers" - large-scale works at least 180 cm long. In 1819, he submitted the painting to the Academy, which rejected him as a collaborator just the year before. Finally, the recognition he had hoped for! The work was a success with the critics and Constable was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1819. Thereafter, he submitted a large-scale painting each year, including what is probably his most famous work, "The Hay Wagon."

A vivid oil sketch of this work has survived. Constable began sketching the scenes outdoors, but because of the size of the finished paintings, he had to come indoors to work on the finished product.

Constable never left England his entire life, and his choice of subject matter did not change seriously. His deep attachment to the English landscape has earned him the reputation of one of the greatest English landscape painters to this day. To this day, people in England say "Constable country" when referring to idyllic village landscapes that lie on the border between Suffolk and Essex.

John Constable - The White Horse

Oil on canvas, 1819, 127 x 183 cm, Frick Collection in New York


bottom of page