Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

November 24, 2014


Filed under: Art History,Painting,Watercolour — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 2:05 pm

I went to see the Constable exhibition at the V&A. I was painting in a very wet Knightsbridge and took refuge from the rain for an hour or so. I nowadays try to distance myself from all I know and have heard of an artist when I look at their pictures. What would the reaction be, I try to think, if an unknown posted this on an online painting forum… how many “likes” would it garner. It is not easy to look afresh, this is after all Constable, one of the greats of British landscape. The exhibition is well worth seeing as it includes paintings by artists who influenced him, both from the past and his contemporaries. So we had Thomas Girtin who he admired hugely and Ruisdael who he copied with great attention to detail. The exhibition also included the sketches and so forth where they when available, which I always like because they show how an artist sets about his business.

Firstly there was much I very much liked. The small plain air sketches and pencil studies. One or two of which have a lovely immediacy and delicate touch. It was here that the heretical thought occurred… if I found an unknown one of these and posted it under an assumed name on UKPleinair (a Facebook group with many fine painters as members) would it stand out? After racking my brains I had to conclude most would not. Indeed many were well below the standard that some artists currently post. The very best would I expect garner praise and positive feedback of course but not I have to conclude adulation. A few examples would be appropriate I suppose.

constable sketch

Here is a middling quality painting. You have to say though perfectly pleasant it is ordinary. Other painters of the time such as Turner and Girtin were doing far better work on the average in my opinion.


Constable sketch

Here is another from later in life. Some nice enough bits but the trees to the left are clumsy as is the composition. The distant blue is a good touch but once again nothing remarkable.


Constable sketch

Here is another, very briskly painted but heavy handed with some ugly brushwork. If it was not by Constable you would possibly throw it out! Because it is by Constable we earnestly peruse it, but to my eye it is just a poor painting.


constable study

This is a sketch for a bigger picture. I find, as Turner and the other Academicians did, that the crude muddy brushwork and the shotgun white highlights just don’t work. The red browns also overwhelm the painting and sit unpleasantly with the blue.


constable salisbury

Now to dig myself a deeper hole still I will consider one of his iconic later paintings. Here is the sketch. There is very little good here. The drawing is poor with Salisbury cathedral toppling to the left. As for the stand of trees on the left, what was he thinking? The sky usually one of his stronger points also is marred by ugly fussy and ill considered white highlights.


constable, salisbury

Here is the final result. It looks better here than in the flesh. The whole picture is smothered in distracting white speckles. He used to call this his “snow” and knew that other painters disliked it. The drawing is a little improved but the river on the right climbs impossibly up the picture plane and there appears to be a miniature village built into the undergrowth on the far bank. Once again the trees are terrible especially the overworked branches at then top. Is it just me but those horses look more like Shetland ponies rather than cart horses!

Poor Constable I hate to say it but I think he has been built up greater than he really was. It is not his fault of course he has been taken by art historians to represent the precursor of impressionism. He is in fact, I feel, a very hit or miss painter who struck a few very high points here and there but struggled in later life to find his way. I liked his Water-meadow near Salisbury far more than his Haywain and some of his oil sketches more than both. He was of course influenced as all artists of the period were by Claude Lorraine and there was a fine example there. His real contribution was pioneering the working out of doors from life, though the curators of the show didn’t appear to notice that several of the so called plein air sketches had glazing over impasto white which makes it unlikely that they were actually done on site. I will end with my favourite thing from the show. A small oil sketch on a bit of millboard.


oil sketch, constable

This is altogether delicious with a light touch and subtle colouring.

November 11, 2014

Getting Old

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 6:39 pm

It is a common idea that as painters age they gain in wisdom and depth which makes their late works more resonant and moving. This idea was key to Simon Schama’s latest program on the late Rembrandt. I  enjoyed the program but it was an extremely orthodox view which I am tempted to question. If you look at the great man’s paintings they actually in my opinion fall off a great deal in quality. I suspect some problems with his vision as Titian and Turner show much the same retreat into inchoate yellow orange tones. With Rembrandt of course falling off in quality is a relative term, he was in my opinion one of the all time greats. What I dislike is the hijacking of this change in quality, probably brought about by diminuition of sight, as a harbinger of modernism. This was the final line of Shama’s spiel. I have heard this argument and commented on it in relation to Turner in earlier posts. In my opinion to take this view is deeply silly. None of these artists as far as I can see could have had any understanding or sympathy with what we call modernism. What we see in their works is physical decline not a new visionary conceptual direction.

This is well illustrated by this quote from a letter from Monet to Marc Elder, in 1922 He wrote, “in the end I was forced to recognize that I was spoiling them [the paintings], that I was no longer capable of doing anything good. So I destroyed several of my panels. Now I’m almost blind and I’m having to abandon work altogether. It’s hard but that’s the way it is: a sad end despite my good health!” . Yet these same canvasses are now held up as the artist making a bold step forwards towards abstraction. For Monet however they were a desparate struggle against increasing blindness. Why abstraction should so often be regarded as a step forward in this road to Damascus manner rather irritates me as abstraction has always been with us in one form or another and cannot really seen as step toward nirvana. There it is though, we are constantly assured that moving from representation to abstraction is like gaining adulthood and leaving the whimsy and the toys of childhood behind.

I have been rather distracted by building a studio in my new garden and the general hassle of relocating a hundred miles from London. It has been very frustrating seeing the countryside of Dorset looking very paintable while I was doomed to be wheeling barrows of concrete for foundations. Still I have managed a few bits and bobs. Also I have a fair few pictures in this exhibition at Bankside with the United society of Artists.


oil painting, Dorset, plein air

A tiny oil I snatched the time to paint, it is going to take a little while to adapt fully to doing pure landscape. The relative lack of people will be one of the greatest changes.


Child Okeford, fog plein air, oil painting

I did this in about 15 min on a damp foggy morning. Walking through the village to get my morning pint of milk was so magical that I had do rush out and try to catch it.


St Martins Lane, London Plein air, oil painting

Briefly back in London to paint with the Brass monkeys. I am experimenting with different primes on my boards, this is wuite a rough one with marble dust in the acrylic gesso. Unusually I took this to a finish on site. oils 10in by 14in.


Admiralty Arch, London, plein air, oil painting

After making a mess of two looking down Whitehall I settled to paint Admiralty Arch, only about 45min for this little sketch but I was pleased with the feel. 8in by 10in oils.


Surrey St, London, plein air, Oil painting

I managed another quick excursion before heading back to the country. This is looking down Surrey St from Mary Le Strand. 10in by 14in oils.


Parsons Green, Fulham, New Kings Rd, pen and ink

I got up to London for a single day but just took my drawing stuff. It was a fantastic day around Parsons Green in Fulham, the low winter light is fantastic and you can draw or paint all day really. This is the New Kings Rd .


Parsons Green, Fulham, London, pen and ink, drawing

A very quick sketch on the way back to the station. This is the North end of Parsons Green. Pen and ink.


Southbank Carousel, drawing, pen and ink.

As my train wasn’t until 8pm I sat on the Thames South Bank and drew the Carousel. After doing a very rough pencil outline I got the figures in first, some are just sketched from passers by, and others cribbed from snaps on my iPhone. Much of the sky hatching I did on the train home! That’s it Posts will be a bit few and far between for a while but I shall still be snatching the odd chance to paint and draw.

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