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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the National Gallery in London looking at one of John constables six-footers the six footers are a series of paintings that are up six feet wide and this was an unusual size for landscape paintings in the early 19th century the date of his paintings 1821 the original title was landscape noon but it's now known universally as the hay Wain and I think it's hard for us to retrieve how radical it was to put forward as your subject at this scale nature landscape painting was one of the lowliest subjects according to the Royal Academy here in London because it was the idea of painting something that was right in front of you just like painting a portrait was something right in front of you so important history subjects religious subjects they were often quite large in less important subjects landscape still lives they were painted on smaller canvases so constable is being ambitious here which might seem funny because the subject seems so very mundane what we're looking at is a view of the store river where constable grew up and hey weigh in a cart moving through that river with a woman in the background doing some washing a dog barking some farmers working in the field in the background the clouds passing in the sky at noon so what is constable heroic izing with the scale of this canvas constables father was a landowner and constable came from a well-to-do family in rural Suffolk in England this is a moment when the land in the countryside is fraught when there are very severe economic stresses and unemployment among the workers in the early Industrial Revolution machines were perceived to be taking employment away there was great poverty but we see none of that here landscapes are expected to be classical and beautiful to show us something idealized but constables refusing to idealize here if constable is looking back to any art history he's looking back to the Dutch - artists like Rosedale look at the amount of his canvas that's given over to the sky constable had studied meteorology which was a new subject and that specificity of Dutch painting capturing a time of day the title of this painting is new specifics that are very much opposite of the idealizing tradition that was recommended by the Academy and in that way there is a subtle political undercurrent however we're not close to the workers we don't actually see their faces the farmers in the background have become one with nature there's no sense of the landscape of nature being something that's fraught at this moment the artist was creating a new kind of beauty finding beauty even in the most lowly that was an expression of his personal experience and I think that's what makes this romantic when we talk about the style of romanticism in England we're thinking about a kind of art that is personal that is emotional and we have his lovely quote from constable about this he said writing to a friend the sound of water escaping from mill dams willows old rotten planks slimy posts and brickwork I love such things as long as I do paint I shall never cease to paint such places they have always been my delight still I should paint my own places best painting is with me but another word for feeling and I associate my careless boyhood with all that lies on the banks of the store these scenes made me a painter and I am grateful it is I'd often thought of pictures of them before I ever touched a pencil so you can think about this painting as Constable loving this landscape so much being so intimately familiar with it but even as this painting is about his personal subjective experience his memories it's also a painting that is fixed in a very particular historical moment because of industrialization and because of the growth of cities Nature has taken on a meaning because it is now removed from people's everyday experiences at least those that would have seen this painting in the Royal Academy in London there's certainly real nostalgia here the six-footers were well received but the criticism that always comes through is the lack of finish which was so different from the prevailing traditions in the Academy at this time where everything had to be smoothly painted where you were not supposed to see the hand of the artist constable was deliberate in creating a rough surface that he felt captured the variety of textures of nature that he was seeing we can feel the paint moving across the surface in the currents of the water for example and the movement of those billowing clouds but in some ways the painting is also very traditional for instance in its composition we're led in from the lower right and we arcs lowly across the foreground towards the left and then circle back to the broadly lit fields and then up into the clouds and so it is a fiction that constable is giving us this may appear to be a snapshot of a view on the river but this is actually something very carefully composed in the artist's studio in the city of London from oil sketches that the artist had done outside it's a distillation of his memory of his experience and of his skill [Music]