John Constable: A Kingdom of His Own by Anthony Bailey - review by John McEwen

John McEwen

Stormy Genius

John Constable: A Kingdom of His Own

By

Chatto & Windus 366pp £17.99 order from our bookshop
 

Anthony Bailey has written several well-received biographies of artists, including one of Turner. Now he completes a notable double, punctuating his text with comparisons between Constable (1776–1837) and Turner (1775–1851), who were guarded acquaintances for forty years – from the critic Robert Hunt’s 1819 opinion that Constable ‘has none of the poetry of Nature like Mr Turner, but he has more of the portraiture’ to Lucian Freud’s in 2002:

For me, Constable is so much more moving than Turner because you feel for him, it’s truth-telling about the land rather than using the land for compositions which suited his inventiveness.

Turner biographies abound, but this is the first of Constable since his friend the painter Charles Leslie’s, first published in 1843. Despite the growth of Constable scholarship Leslie’s biography has remained unchallenged, but it is too kind and decorous – even ‘cow dung’ was cut to spare the blushes of

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