Dial the Lobster

Bringing art into everyday conversation

Tag: Constable

Autumn Paintings

Happy Autumn (or Fall) Lobsterites!

In celebration of the season, I have chosen two autumnal paintings to talk about. After dissing Constable in my last post, and feeling mightily ashamed of myself for doing so, I thought it only fair to include his much-beloved “Epitaph to Joshua Reynolds” (1833-36).

Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds by John Constable

I love this painting, but it makes me feel kind of nostalgic about England and Fall. Living in L.A. I don’t see too much of it. Anyway, ostensibly this painting is about the death of the revered painter Joshua Reynolds. The stag seems to represent him – his nobility, his virility (in art, anyway) his wisdom and his immortality. But personally, sorry Joshua, I just love the mood this painting creates. The tall, half-dead trees, the chill in the air, the forest fading away into a chasm of darkness. It makes death seem remarkably peaceful; the autumn of our lives like something we should be proud to reach…monumental, yet inviting, like jumping into a swimming pool in the dark.

My second pick couldn’t be more different. This is Cy Twombly’s “Autunno” (1993-5) This was painted as part of a series of four that celebrates each season, and for comparison purposes I’ve also posted “Inverno” (winter) and “Estate” (summer).

I’m not sure about this. Compared to “Inverno” and “Estate” it has a raw energy. “Inverno” feels fittingly threatening to me…all that black drifting in like a thundercloud. “Estate” feels dreamy, with its tears of yellow like smudged clown make-up. But I’m not sure I can relate “Autonno” to my own feelings about this season. It feels too…busy, and daring, lacking the serenity I personally associate with it. So, I guess I am a Constable fan after all! Which do you prefer?




J.M.W Turner’s “Snow Storm” -The Sherbet Lemon of the Art World.

“What. The. Whaaa?” I think these were the words I uttered when I first beheld J.M.W. Turner’s epic “Snow Storm Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842). You see, I wasn’t in the Impressionist Gallery. I was in the same gallery as all those rather dull Constables and Gainsboroughs and so on, and then…this. It hits you like a sucker-punch to the jaw. If art were candy, it’s the art equivalent of a sherbet lemon:


Let’s compare this to another popular painting of the time period, shall we? Constable’s “Salisbury Cathedral,” painted just a few years before:

Constable_Salisbury_meadowsWho am I to diss Constable, but compared to Turner’s work (and unfortunately for Constable, his works hang in the same gallery as Turners’ at the National Gallery) his stuff just seems…stale? Old-fashioned? Dare I say, the candy equivalent of a strawberry cream?? Sweet, comforting, and ever so slightly sickly.

This isn’t fair to Constable, of course. He was a master of brushwork, of sky and of light. He pioneered the depiction of realistic atmosphere and clouds. But Turner, in his late work, takes it to a whole new level, single-handedly (yes, really!!) inventing abstract-expressionism in one fell swoop and dip of his brush. Pretty much everything we see painted in the 1900s owes its debt to Turner. Not just the style of painting, but how it is painted: Turner famously turned his brush upside down to scratch surfaces with the wooden handle.

It’s Romantic, yet edgy and non-saccharine. It’s individualistic, yet not about the individual. It’s emotion and feeling set down in paint. It’s in love with power, and the power of the artist in particular to create and portray new worlds. In short, it’s the birth of modern art.

And now I really fancy a sherbet lemon…


The Lobster.