Draft introduction to English Landscape


John Constable issued a series of 22 mezzotints from June 1830 to July 1832 as Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery, from Pictures Painted by John Constable, R.A., Engraved by David Lucas. An introduction dated 28 May 1832 was included in the July instalment. This draft, written on the 20th of May 1832, shows Constable struggling at a time when ‘topographical’ art had become seen as a lesser form of landscape with how to express his aim of lauding “the Genuine Scenes of England” as “the vehicle of General Landscape”, “part of the legitimate art of the country:

English Landscape

Rura mihi, et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes,

Flumina amen, sylvasque, inglorious.

This little work being at length completed it is not without great anxiety that it is offered to the notice of the world - perhaps the very flattering manner in which it has been received by the profession and other intelligent persons cannot have failed both to promote and influence its publication.

The leading object in the production of these Landscape specimins subjects of Landscape - is to help and promote the love of English Scenery and to mark in nature the powerfull influence and endless changes of the “Chiaro scuro” to promote moreover that endeavour.

Another object of this work is to promote that happy union of the study of nature in the fields with the contemplation of works of art at home.

Respiciens rura – laremque suum Ovid.

Neither can be effective alone – there can be no reason why the Genuine Scenes of England – repleat with all powerful associations and endearments – with per this perhaps – their amenity – should not be made the Vehicle of General Landscape – be embodied with its principals – and become part of the legitimate art of the country – the art so pursued could not fail of becoming original & characteristic and what it is the endeavour of this work to promote notwithstanding the hazard of its of of present disadvantage.

In an age and country so abounding with great examplars – both of living and departed excellence genius. it will follow the imitator or at best and their consequent attendant conoursurship – it must follow that imitative merit or at best that excellence which is eclectic will be the least disputed – and more redily received than that with which the world is as yet unacquainted – but those species of merit would be neither congenial with the spirit, nor at all according the principals which it is the endeavour of this work to display.

John Constable

Well Walk Hampstd

May 20 1832

Three other drafts of this introduction are held by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 38-1953, MS 39-1953, and MS 40-1953. They were gifts of the Constable scholar R.B.Beckett, who highlighted them as he donated them in a letter to J.W. Goodison, Deputy Director of the Fitzwilliam, dated 30 November 1953: 'The most interesting [of the papers I am offering], to my mind, are the draft introductions to English Landscape. In his first draft [MS 38-1953 at Cambridge] Constable was going beyond his immediate purpose of explaining the mezzotints and was seeking to put into words the battle, so to speak, which he had been fighting all his life – that of setting landscape, and particularly English Landscape, on its own feet. There is something pathetic in his painful & cumbrous efforts to express himself: an exact parallel with the difficulties he found in his early attempts at drawing, which did not come naturally to him: or you may draw another parallel between his rapid sketches and short satirical remarks on the one hand, his attempts at ‘finishing’ and elaborating in paint or in words, on the other'.

See Felicity Myrone, ‘Introductions to Constable's English Landscape’, Print Quarterly, 24 (September 2007), 273-77.

Full title:
Draft introduction to English Landscape
20 May 1832
Pen and ink / Manuscript
John Constable
© British Library
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British Library

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