Constable’s French Rep


John Constable, The Cornfield, 1826

From Tate Papers:

Much has been written about John Constable’s success at the Paris Salon of 1824, but his participation in the next Salon of 1827–8 has received far less attention. This relative neglect is perhaps not so surprising, given that the single painting he exhibited, The Cornfield 1826, did not repeat his earlier triumph. The same Salon at which Constable met with a critical setback, however, also marked the debut of Paul Huet, the artist usually regarded as his closest French follower.

In 1862 both The Hay Wain and The Flood at Saint-Cloud were brought together for the International Exhibition in London: Huet’s picture had been chosen by the French selection committee charged with putting together a survey of the last ten years of art in France, while The Hay Wain was lent by George Young, who had owned the painting since at least 1853. The White Horse was also among the paintings by Constable on display. At the same time, Henry Vaughan lent the full-scale sketch for The Hay Wain to the Sheepshanks Gallery, then known as the National Gallery of British Art and adjacent to the site of the International Exhibition in South Kensington.

Paul Huet, The Flood at Saint-Cloud, 1855

Huet had heard that his painting had been well-placed and judged ‘a true success’ by several people. In July he travelled to England to see for himself, and there, according to René-Paul’s account, ‘he rekindled all the enthusiasm of his youthful response to the Ford [The Hay Wain]’. René-Paul also notes that his father made a second sketch of The Hay Wain, larger than the one he had done back in 1824: ‘On his return from London … he produced a larger version based on a rough sketch made in front of the painting and then transformed into a wash drawing when he got back to his hotel that evening’. We have no record of what other pictures he saw while he was in London. He could perhaps have renewed his acquaintance with The Cornfield, at that time also on display in South Kensington, though in the light of its reception in Paris in 1828, he may have had no incentive.

John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821

Huet took the opportunity to travel in the English landscape itself, however, as detailed in letters to his wife and daughter. He compared the Long Walk at Windsor with the parc de Saint-Cloud, and visited Stonehenge and Salisbury. In his biography René-Paul showed himself aware that the latter site was associated with Constable, making a rather confused allusion to ‘the Roman camp that inspired one of Constable’s paintings’, although Huet himself makes no mention of the connection in describing his visit to his wife. He went on to travel through the West Country as far as Cornwall and Land’s End, making sketches and watercolours along the way.

“John Constable and Paul Huet: Marsh and Flood”, Nicholas Alfrey, Tate Papers

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