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Video transcript

we're in the Huntington Library and we're looking at one of John Constable six paintings that are called the six footers these are large-scale landscapes and which was a radical idea so we radically write landscape was not considered a genre of art at all landscape was close to the bottom and this was a scale that was appropriate for history painting so constables immediately making a statement about the importance of landscape painting and interestingly not painting an Italianate classical timeless landscape but very much his own landscape of his native Suffolk this is where his father's farm was and so this was an environment that he was extremely familiar with and it's not at all ideal feels like a specific time of day a specific season a specific kind of weather and in fact constable we think is the first artist to take weather seriously and to study meteorological books and the trees are so specific the foliage is so specific you can actually determine what kind of foliage this is it looks like either a storm is approaching or is just passed you can almost feel the coolness of the breeze there's something very rough intact out it's a beautiful ideal pastoral English landscape but at the same time it's filled with qualities of the mud of the river and the plants growing by the bank but you can feel it and this is a painting that is about landscape but it's also filled with vignettes do you have men pulling and pushing you can see two barges in the canal and somebody who seems to be pushing them apart to maneuver one of these barges past the other the white horse on the left is at rest and the men are doing the labor here that's true and then across the footbridge we see a woman carrying a baby bathed in sunlight another figure doing some washing in the river and another couple of figures just beginning to move on to that footbridge and then in the distance a sail on a boat and then a sail on another barge and then in the further distance the church and it's clearly an important part of this painting that you English Anglican Church and so there's a real sense of timelessness that this is a kind of cycle of life ordained by God and will continue forever I agree it is timeless but it's also full of particularity the clouds are the types of trees the work of the man and weather and even in the foreground we see a rake some water lilies in the lower-left the particulars of the reflection in look now it is a kind of idea of a particularity that should exist one feels forever and ever what's actually happening to British society at this moment this is the Industrial Revolution and with trains these kinds of barges are no longer going to be that useful to transport grain to the cities to the markets the price of food had fallen and there was real unrest in the countryside itself fires major political unrest that had the aristocracy and the landowners like constables own father really fearful for the future of England so is this a kind of denial then or kind of nostalgic view to a fleeting present and perhaps really even a past well in constables own past his own sense of his boyhood his own nostalgia I think there's both a personal nostalgia for the place that he grew up a feeling that many of us know very well but also nostalgia perhaps for that a sense of an England that was disappearing you