JEWEL OF THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE
My cathedral looks very well…it was the most difficult subject in Landscape I ever had upon my Easel. I have not flinched at the work of the windows, butressses &c—but I have as usual my escape in the Evanescence of the Chiaro-Oscuro.
I wish to have a more serene sky.
Bishop John Fisher
To see all of John Constable’s four paintings of Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Ground* today, you would have to book several flights, from the UK to southern California, with a stop in New York. Constable (1776-1837), renowned for his moving landscapes of the British countryside, was challenged by Salisbury Cathedral itself. Constructed mainly from 1220 to 1258, in a record 38 years, the church is a landmark of the Early English Gothic style with its ornate facade and 404 foot spire.
But perhaps similarly daunting for the artist was pleasing his close friend and the cathedral’s bishop John Fisher, who commissioned the work. Constable had visited the Fisher family at least three times, creating drawings and oil studies in the open air of the medieval structure. By 1822, Fisher had commissioned Constable to immortalize the view near the bishop’s residence, so that he could hang it in his other home in London.
The result was the first Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Ground currently belonging to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in 1823, it was followed by a smaller version requested by Fisher for his daughter Elizabeth’s wedding in October of that same year. However, Fisher was never happy with what he considered the stormy sky of the Victoria and Albert painting. So Constable produced the third slightly different titled Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden of about 1826, now part of The Frick Collection in New York City.
Are you a bit confused?
Then, in addition, the oil study for number three is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, just down the street from the Frick. Would you like to compare them? I’m rather partial to the preliminary interpretation at the Met immediately below with its more spontaneous brushwork–especially the white touches of pigment often calledConstable’s “snow” on the trees. Also note the man identified as Bishop Fisher on our lower left, pointing out the wonders of Salisbury Cathedral to his wife. Unfortunately, the painting was still incomplete when he died.
Or maybe your preference is for the Frick’s canvas?
Yet, whatever your choice, Constable’s depiction of Salisbury Cathedral is the equal of any photograph.
To browse a magnified Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden, click,
Plus to take a look at number 1 and number 2, click
This blog is based on resources from the websites of the art museums above.
The above images are used for educational purposes.
Take an art walk with Monet and other artists in Through an Artist’s Eyes: Learning to Live Creatively.