Constable and Brighton

A new exhibition curated by artist Peter Harrap at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery 8th April 2017 to the 8th October 2017 will explore John Constable’s time in Brighton between 1824 to 1828 through his paintings and an accompanying Scala book of the exhibition, available here

Rainstorm over the Sea
Rainstorm Over the Sea, John Constable, courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts

By strange serendipity, after renovating their Brighton studio, Harrap and Kissell found out from a neighbour and freelance journalist, Shan Lancaster, that the deeds of their studio contained an unusual story. Between 1824 and 1828 John Constable and his family had lodged in the house that is now Harrap and Kissell’s family home and painting studio. Constable had a painting room in the house, what was then known as 9 Mrs Sober’s Gardens. This story inspired Harrap to delve into Constable’s short history in Brighton, and will surmount this year with the exhibition of Constable’s works from the period and the publication of Harrap’s book on the subject.

Constable’s wife Maria suffered from Tuberculosis, and on medical advice the couple and their children took lodgings in Brighton for extended periods.  Despite this, after four years, Maria sadly died at the age of 41.

Working between Brighton and London, Constable produced around 150 works in the town.  Some were commissions, created in his ‘painting room’ and usually destined for the French market, but his long, systematic walks in and around Brighton also prompted many other works.

Constable in Brighton will bring together over 60 of the artist’s sketches, drawings and paintings from his period in Brighton for the first time, in the place where they were created.  Focusing on his family life and walks, it will explore the impact and influence of the work he made here; as well as the working practices he developed and the locations and people who inspired him.

Uniquely, the display will follow Constable’s own walking and painting sequences, illustrating the series of paintings he produced as he explored the Brighton landscape.  Highlights will include:

  • Chain Pier, Brighton (1826–7, Tate), a fine oil painting featuring the early Brighton landmark which was swept away in 1896, in its first exhibition in the city for 20 years.
  • Rainstorm over the Sea (c. 1824-28, Royal Academy of Arts) as seen above, a passionate, early impressionistic oil sketch seemingly influenced by Maria’s illness.
  • A Windmill near Brighton (1824, Tate), a jewel-like pastoral scene of a sun-drenched windmill typical of the Sussex countryside in Constable’s time.
  • The artist’s painting box, and his children’s toy stagecoach.
  • The gold medal Constable won for his celebrated painting The Hay Wain, when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1824 (having been shown at the Royal Academy in 1821).

Constable in Brighton will be curated by Harrap in consultation with renowned Constable expert Anne Lyles (formerly of Tate) and with support from researcher Shan Lancaster.  Harrap’s interest in Constable burgeoned when he discovered he was living in the property where Constable lodged.

He said: “I’ve long been interested in Constable, but discovering that he was based in the house where I now live has led me to specialise in researching his life and work.  He wasn’t a huge fan of busy Brighton, referring to it as ‘Piccadilly by the sea’, but he enjoyed local walks and his time here was very productive.  His images of the coast, the South Downs and the area’s working life pioneered the practice of painting from life in the open air, later adopted by the Impressionists.”

Central to the exhibition will be Constable’s view that he expressed in a letter written from Brighton in 1824, that: “It is the business of a painter not to contend with nature and put this scene (…) on a canvas of a few inches, but to make something out of nothing, in attempting which he must almost of necessity become poetical.”

Constable in Brighton will form part of Royal Pavilion & Museums’ Regency Summer season in 2017, which will also include Jane Austen by the Sea at the Royal Pavilion and Visions of the Royal Pavilion Estate at Brighton Museum.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a book of essays, Constable and Brighton, edited by Shan Lancaster – featuring Peter Harrap, Anne Lyles, Ian Warrell and Sue Berry.  Published by Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers Ltd, it will be available in March 2017.

Peter Harrap as the artist curator of the exhibition has made two responses to Constable’s Study of the Trunk of an Elm seen above. They show an equivalence between the arborglyphs (tree graffiti) and the scars on the body of Harrap’s friend, a surviver of a car accident.

You can check out a collection of Constable’s walks and find information on the exhibition on Facebook here

Please find the Scala book on the exhibition here