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Constable: A Portrait

James Hamilton

7 Reviews

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Animals & nature in art (still life, landscapes & , Biography: arts & entertainment

A fresh biography of the revolutionary British landscape painter John Constable, from the author of Gainsborough, a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week and The Times, Sunday Times and Observer book of the year

'Eye-opening and full of surprises . . . A treasure' Sunday Times
'A biography as rich with colourful characters as any novel' Telegraph

John Constable, the revolutionary nineteenth-century painter of the landscapes and skies of southern England, is Britain's best-loved but perhaps least understood artist.

His paintings reflect visions of landscape that shocked and perplexed his contemporaries: attentive to detail, spontaneous in gesture, brave in their use of colour. What we learn from his landscapes is that Constable had sharp local knowledge of Suffolk, a clarity of expression of the skyscapes above Hampstead, an understanding of the human tides in London and Brighton, and a rare ability in his late paintings of Salisbury Cathedral to transform silent suppressed passion into paint.

Yet Constable was also an active and energetic correspondent. His letters and diaries - there are over one thousand letters from and to him - reveal a man of passion, opinion and discord, while his character and personality is concealed behind the high shimmering colour of his paintings. They reveal too the lives and circumstances of his brothers and his sisters, his cousins and his aunts, who serve to define the social and economic landscape against which he can be most clearly seen. These multifaceted reflections draw a sharp picture of the person, as well as the painter.

James Hamilton's biography reveals a complex, troubled man, and explodes previous mythologies about this timeless artist, and establishes him in his proper context as a giant of European art.

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Praise for Constable: A Portrait

  • Eye-opening . . This life of the celebrated landscape painter is full of surprises . . . its magnificent colour plates lift it on to another plane . . . A treasure - Sunday Times

  • Hamilton is a patient, perceptive portraitist, attuned to every swerve in the currents of Constable's life . . . you wonder whether "Constable: A Novel" might have been a truer title . . . he has drawn to such rich, multi-vocal effect, Constable: A Portrait will bring you as close as is probably possible to understanding Constable - Sunday Telegraph

  • One of the many merits of James Hamilton's estimable biography of the painter is to show Constable's long struggle towards acceptance . . . As the biographer of Gainsborough and Turner, Hamilton is a practised hand when it comes to 18th- and 19th-century British art, and it shows. - New Statesman

  • Absorbing . . . Hamilton brings this period to life . . . [he] is an astute judge of his subject's complex character . . . Constable may be a challenging subject, but Hamilton's deft use of his compelling voice keeps the narrative moving - Literary Review

  • [A] major new biography . . . The story is written in an often racy narrative and almost filmic in pace. - Catholic Herald

  • This beautiful biography captures its subject's enchanting, clever, argumentative personality with considerable grace . . . The sense of London society and of the warm humans who populated it have an almost novelistic quality. - The Spectator

  • Wonderfully deft and vivid . . . This Constable emerges from his travails as a colourful as well as dogged character, with a piquant turn of phrase - Country Life

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James Hamilton

James Hamilton has written biographies of Turner and Faraday. While being an authority on nineteenth century cultural history, James Hamilton also writes on twentieth century and contemporary art. Formerly Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford, he is University Curator and Honorary Reader in the History of Art at the University of Birmingham.

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