Sunday, July 22, 2007

John Constable: The Hay Wain (1821)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There have many new posts by me and the co-bloggers in recent days, and on a variety of topics, including Krazy Kristol, Robert Gates, the Bush colonoscopy, how the rest of the world views America, the "Hypocrite in chief," the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, and, of course, Iraq and the Surge. Please scroll down to find them, or click here to go to the main page (if you're not there now).

In the meantime -- as I take a pause from Letters from Iwo Jima, a very good film and certainly much better than Flags of Our Fathers -- I thought I would post what I consider to be one of the most beautiful paintings of all, Constable's The Hay Wain. I remember it being one of my favourites when I first discovered art as a child, when art history become one of my true passions -- when I was in Grade 4, if I remember correctly, when I was nine. It was not long after that I took a liking to Constable, a liking that continues to this day.

It is the romanticism, I suppose, a deep sentimentality, for man and for nature. There is a stillness and a quiet to Constable's work, or at least to many of them, that acts as a sort of antidote to the mayhem of our time. That may be my English heritage speaking, but there is a universality to Constable's work that transports such resonance beyond time and place. To me, looking at Constable is like reading Wordsworth -- and especially "Tintern Abbey," from which these lines:

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

So here it is, The Hay Wain, one of the great masterpieces in the collection of The National Gallery in London. Looking at it on a computer screen does not do it justice.

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