The Masterpieces from World Museums in the Hermitage
John Constable, Mill of Gillingham, Dorset and George Stubbs, Turf,
with jockey up, at Newmarket
21 June, 2002 - 21 September, 2002
To mark the reopening after restoration of the halls of British art,
an exhibition has been organized (in Hall 288) of paintings by two outstanding
British artists George Stubbs and John Constable. The Yale Center for
the Study of British Art in New Haven presents Turf, with jockey up
by Stubbs and Mill of Gillingham by Constable. The choice of these
particular works is no coincidence. The choice of these particular works
is no coincidence: works by these two great artists are lacking in the
Stubbs's celebrated canvas Turf, with jockey up (circa 1765) belongs
to the genre known as sporting painting, a specifically English phenomenon.
The breeding of thoroughbred horses, as well as racing, hunting and shooting,
produced the natural desire to be recorded riding or standing alongside
a noble steed, simply to have a ''portrait'' of a favourite animal. The
leading figure in this distinctive field of art in 18th-century Britain
was George Stubbs (1724-1806). In his works he strove after greater veracity
in the depiction of animals, among whom horses took pride of place.
Turf, with jockey up, at Newmarket, was painted for Frederick St.
John, 2nd Viscount Bollingbroke, one of Stubbs's most important patrons
and customers. The painting is typical of the artist's work in the 1760s
and 1770s. He depicts the horse's stance and musculature with the precision
of an anatomist. Yet at the same time he depicts the deliberately deserted
landscape with amazing artistic subtlety and his inherent sense of colour
and compositional harmony. A low landscape leaves the greater part of
the canvas to the bright area of the sky, against which background the
horse is turned side on, an angle that allows Stubbs to invest the depiction
of the animal with an almost relief-like monumentality.
Like Stubbs, John Constable (1776-1806) learnt his art chiefly from nature.
His preference was for simple subjects and his work differed greatly from
what contemporaries were used to. The artist rejected the customary ''stage-set''
construction of the landscape and banished from his paintings the brown
tone that had been an invariable feature of his predecessors' work. Untiring
observation of colour relations and a scientific approach to understanding
the nature of sunlight transformed the colour scheme of Constable's works
and influenced European art as a whole.
Constable discovered early in his career the significance of the study
from real life, and the freshness and immediacy of the study is preserved
in many of his finished works. This applies in full measure to Mill
of Gillingham, Dorset (1825-26). Besides this version, there are two
other depictions by Constable of that same Dorset mill (one is in the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the other in the Fitzwilliam Museum).
All three are very similar, differing only in details. Constable was an
artist who often repeated not only the same favourite motifs of familiar
places, but the same subjects, introducing only minor changes. The painting
that has arrived in the Hermitage was commissioned by a Mrs Hand. The
diary that Constable kept in 1824 records that on 15 July that lady came
by to ask about a little painting with Gillingham Mill. He was only able
to meet the order a few months later, at which time he wrote to his clergyman
friend Fisher that in it he had produced his finest picture. By an irony
of fate the natural simplicity and open-air quality of Constable's work
was first appreciated not in his homeland, but in France. The paintings
by him exhibited at the 1824 Salon had a great influence on contemporary
Turf, with jockey up, at Newmarket
Mill of Gillingham. Dorset