This image depicts the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, near Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. The two remaining towers of the castle stand in the left register of the picture place, a scrawny tree between them. In the lower left corner, a shepherd boy carrying a staff is walking up the incline toward the ruins. A dog follows close behind him, looking up at the sky. To the right of the tower and near the center of the piece, another figure, presumably a cowherd, herds two cows with a staff. A few ships appear on the distant horizon, which is illuminated by shafts of light breaking through the cloudy sky, as well as another ruin further down the shoreline.
Copyright, 2009, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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First published in a series of twenty-two mezzotints engraved by David Lucas and titled Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristics of English Scenery, from Pictures Painted by John Constable, R.A. (London, 1830-32), this piece is generally known today as English Landscape. This is the second of two mezzotints engraved by Lucas after Constable’s Hadleigh Castle.
From 1829 until his death, Constable devoted much of his time and money to the business of print-making and publishing. The result was a series of twenty-two mezzotints engraved under his close supervision by David Lucas (1802-1881) and entitled Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristics of English Scenery, from Pictures Painted by John Constable, R.A. The series was initially issued in segments between June 1830 and July 1832. Lucas also engraved several smaller plates after Constable’s death. The project was conceived in the months following Constable’s long-delayed election to the Royal Academy and represents in some ways the perspective of an artist “who had yet to make a mark with the public (at least in England) and who still had much to say” (Parris and Fleming-Williams 319). The text he wrote to accompany the images acts as an apologia, asking his audience to re-evaluate his work and help him gain the fame he believed he deserved. In 1833 the added subtitle, Principally Intended to Mark the Phenomena of the Chiar’ Oscuro of Nature, explained Constable’s intention behind the project. According to Constable, chiaroscuro was both a means of defining space and articulating a picture surface, as well as a principle of nature itself. For Constable, it was the technique through which “the grand and varied aspects of Landscape are displayed, both in the fields and on canvas” (J. Constable 2). By working with mezzotint, which is arguably the most chiaroscuratic of print techniques since the effects of black and white are created by scraping and burnishing new plates, Constable was able (with Lucas's aid) to zero in on the interaction between light and dark and explore a new tonal range (Parris and Fleming-Williams 319).
This print was the first of several plates created by Lucas with Constable’s co-operation. In a letter dated 26 February 1830, Constable told Lucas that he did not have “the wish to become the owner of the large plate of the Castle, but I am anxious that it should be fine, & will take all pains with it. It will not fail of being so, if I may now judge” (John Constable’s Correspondence 325). Constable later added in the same letter, “Bring me another large Castle or two or three, for it is mighty fine—though it looks as if all the chimney sweepers in Christendom had been at work on it & thrown their soot bags up in the air. Yet every body likes it.”
In 1814, Constable visited the ruins while touring south Essex with an old friend, the Reverend W.W. Driffield (the vicar of Feering near Colchester). In a letter to his betrothed Maria Bicknell, Constable wrote that “‘there is a ruin of a castle which from its situation is really a fine place—it commands a view of the Kent hills, the nore and north foreland & looking many miles to the sea’” (John Constable’s Correspondence 127). He made a drawing of the view in the sketchbook he was carrying at the time, and based this painting, and its ancillary sketches, upon this primary perception. It is significant that at the time of the initial sketch, Constable was in the midst of the most discouraging stage of his courtship with Maria. This depression is reflected in his aforementioned letter when he writes that he had "walked upon the beach at South End. I was always delighted with the melancholy grandeur of a sea shore" (John Constable’s Correspondence 127). Constable only returned to the sketch after Maria's death in November, 1828. Many scholars believe that this scene of loneliness and decay was especially poignant for Constable in times of desolation. In a letter to C.R. Leslie dated January 21, 1829, Constable writes “I have been ill but I have endeavored to get to work again—and could I get a float on a canvas of six feet I might have a chance of being carried away from myself” (John Constable’s Correspondence 255). A later letter from Abram Constable suggests that it is the composition of Hadleigh Castle that lifted the painter out of his depression: “You will now proceed with your Picture of the Nore—and I think it will be beautiful” (John Constable’s Correspondence 255). Several commentators suggest that his awareness of the ruin as an artistic subject and symbol may have come from his reading of Wordsworth’s “Elegiac Stanzas.” Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams contend that Wordsworth’s stoic conclusion—“ ‘Not without hope we suffer and mourn’ ”—are perfectly aligned with the circumstances surrounding the composition of Hadleigh Castle (314).
John Constable (1776-1837)
John Constable is the painter of the original Hadleigh Castle, on which Lucas’s engraving is based.
Hadleigh Castle is a thirteenth-century ruin located approximately 150 feet above the Thames near Southend-on-Sea; it rests on a hill with an abrupt drop to the estuary below. The ruins of two towers form the principle portion of the remains, one at the north-east end and the other at the south-east end. Although they have been considerably reduced in height, the northern tower being nearly demolished, enough of each edifice stands to suggest that they were originally identical in form and construction. The towers are externally circular, internally hexagonal, and are approximately sixty feet apart, at one point having been connected by a wall eight feet thick and twenty feet high; however, very little of the masonry now remains above ground. A local legend also claims that the ruins are haunted “by a lady dressed in white [who is] anxious to divulge the burial place of [a] vast treasure” (White 2). The castle was built by Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, during the reign of Henry III. Hadleigh Castle was one of the four fortified buildings of the Eastern Counties, called “Royal Castles,” that were built for national security (W 168). After a series of repossessions, the castle was finally granted by Edward VI to Richard, Lord Riche; it passed from him to the Bernard family, and they demolished part of the edifice and left the remains to decay (“The Banks of the Thames” 203-4). According to “A Visit to Hadleigh Castle,” an article from the 1866 periodical Once a Week, “[t]he pleasing and extensive prospect which is commanded from Hadleigh Castle, attracts numerous visitors from Southend and the surrounding neighbourhood during the summer months—the picturesque ruin offering great temptations for those who delight in pic-nic parties and such like healthful out-door recreation” (W 168).
Constable, John. Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle.'. 1828-29. Oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom.
---. Sketch of Hadleigh Castle. 1828-29. Oil on millboard. Paul Mellon Collection, Upperville, Virginia.
---. Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle.' 1828-29. Pen and ink. Private Collection (Mr. and Mrs. David Thomson).
---. A Shepherd. Pen and ink. The Horne Foundation Museum, Florence, Italy.
---. Hadleigh Castle, A Distant View. n.d. Oil on canvas. Private Collection, on loan to the City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
---. Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames—Morning after a Stormy Night. 1829. Oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, Connecticut.
Lucas, David; after John Constable. Hadleigh Castle. c. 1830-32. Mezzotint with etching, engraver’s proof. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, Connecticut.
---. Hadleigh Castle near the Nore (Progress Proof “a”). c. 1832. Mezzotint. Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
---. Hadleigh Castle near the Nore (Progress Proof “b”). c. 1832. Mezzotint. Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
There is also another mezzotint of the same work completed by Lucas two years earlier in 1830. The earlier one, however, is larger, and there are some slight differences in the profile of the principle tower.
This image depicts the ruins of Hadleigh Castle. A reformulation of Constable's earlier painting of the same scene, this mezzotint explores new possibilities for the symbolic manipulation of landscape, specifically through the application of chiaroscuro.
Ruin. Picturesque. British. Historical consciousness. History. Landscape. Place. Print culture. Tourism. Travel.
While Constable’s oil paintings primarily sought to preserve the integrity of the scene being depicted, the mezzotints from Constable and Lucas’s English Landscape explore new possibilities for the symbolic manipulation of landscape. Embracing Constable’s artistic philosophy that there were two kinds of artists, “the imitator or the eclectic who gains ready acceptance by retailing the familiar, and the innovator who adds to art ‘qualities of Nature unknown to it before,’” Constable and David Lucas reproduced many of Constable’s earlier paintings using the engraving technique of mezzotint, a method that allowed them to play with the tonal range of a given landscape (Parris and Fleming-Williams 319). This technique also utilized Constable’s concept of chiaroscuro (or the contrast between light and dark) as the only means of defining artistic space and depicting the reality of nature on the canvas. In this particular print, the landscape is rendered more fluid and indistinct, suggesting a scene that is in flux. By destabilizing the original painting of Hadleigh Castle, Constable is de-familiarizing a scene that would have been familiar to many Englishmen.
The publication of English Landscape exposed Constable to a wider audience. Choosing the right engraver was a crucial decision for Constable, as it would ultimately affect how his work was presented to the world and posterity. He finally chose David Lucas, further deciding that mezzotint was the most suitable technique to apply to his work (F. Constable 119-20). David Lucas’s work, including Hadleigh Castle, helped introduce Constable’s depiction of the ruins to an audience beyond the Royal Academy. Consequently, Lucas was essential to the spread of Constable’s name and repertoire as an artist; furthermore, his collaboration with Constable realized and propagated the fact that depictions of ruins held great popular appeal for Romantic audiences.
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Lucas, David. Hadleigh Castle. c. 1832. After John Constable. Mezzotint with etching, engraver's proof. 10 1/2 x 14 1/4 in. (26.7 x 36.2 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. B1978.43.205