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John Constable and William Turner: Two Great Romantics

John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner are two great artists from the romantic period. Both of these artists have contributed greatly towards what is called the romantic style and are known for painting landscapes. Although they have a completely different style as far as their technique, they each tell a story about significant events in history. They paint about a scene from daily life or an event that has happened. John Constable and Joseph Turner have both contributed greatly towards the romantic style, but they differ from each other in various ways such as technique, color, and theme.

John Constable was a British painter of the romantic period. He was known for his “pure and unaffected representation of nature” (Gray 10). He was born June 11, 1776 and was raised along the Stour River in Suffolk, England. He initially followed his father’s footsteps into the milling business. This shaped his view on weather and its influence on the agricultural community. Working in that area allowed him “to observe atmospheric phenomena with a disciplined eye” (Gray 10). He pursued his desire to paint by painting the fields at a certain time each day until the shadows changed the lighting (Gray 12). In 1799 he moved to London to attend the Royal Academy Schools. After the death of his father he received a small inheritance which allowed him to marry Maria Biknell and pursue his painting full time. His wife died in 1828 which greatly impacted his art. He passed away in 1837 and was buried by her side. (Gray 15)

Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in 1775 to a barber. He was sketching by age 8 and began his art career by tinting prints for an engraver. Like Constable he attended the Royal Academy Schools. He traveled on foot sketching throughout England and was commissioned to numerous paintings. He left the stifling rules of the academy to show his work in London’s art galleries and made a name for himself at a young age for his watercolors. The popularity of his exhibits afforded him the ability to travel the continent extensively and make sketches that he would use for his later works. Although sometimes seen as a recluse he was well read and widely traveled by his death. While he achieved much during his life time, after his death a wealth of work and journals was discovered that include some of his better works. He died with millions of dollars and a lasting impact on the art world. (MacEvoy)

Constable’s technique for painting involved sketching the scene first and then sharpening the focus on the scene for the final painting. He would clearly define the outline of the objects in his paintings. He showed great interest in works of the old masters and “constantly juxtaposing their interpretations of the natural world against his own experiences of it” (Gray 14). His ruin style may not have been intentional, but is notably timed with the death of his wife. In his painting of Hadleigh Castle, the foreground seems illuminated, the brush strokes erratic, and in places even the color seems unnatural. “One critic of the time, not altogether unreasonably, likened parts of the foreground to ‘masses of chopped hay’ stuck to the surface” (Hawes 456). While Constable did not directly admit his choice of styling, it was clear throughout his paintings how effected he was by the circumstances in his life.

Another of Constable’s noted techniques was to splatter additional specs of white paint on some of the highlights. This was not received well by critics, but is often seen in his later paintings. Many critics also preferred the techniques used in his larger oil sketches because they seemed to be more finished than later versions and of a freer execution (Hawes 460).

Unlike Constable, objects in Joseph Turner’s work do not have a clearly defined outline. Turner may be more famous for his oil paintings, but he was very influential in watercolors as well. He frequently experimented with various techniques, including using a gum varnish to heighten color and sponging, scraping, and blotting to achieve the desired effect on the canvas. This wide range of techniques gave him the ability to create the atmosphere in light and color unlike other artists. He would choose the best medium for the scene he was trying to capture (MacEvoy). Another element that effected his style was that he used pigments that were course and large-grained. This lent itself to the color and texture of his paintings. Like Constable, Turner also made extensive sketches of his scenes prior to producing them on canvas. He sketched throughout his travels and then later used them as the basis of his works.

Constable was known for using a large range of greens which were mixed from opaque pigments. He was not known for using pigments containing extenders. He used cobalt during 1819, chrome yellow in during 1816 and emerald green from the 1830s. Notably Constable used burnt terre verte which was not found in any of Turner’s works. As noted above the death of his wife also deepened the colors he used in his paintings. His palate darkened along with his mood. (Gray 15)

When it comes to color Turner used every possible resource available to him during his lifetime. He experimented greatly with color and pigments. After his death scientific research was done on the palates left in studio. Turner used a wide variety reds and yellows extending his color choices far beyond that of Constable. Just like his use of various techniques he was not afraid to experiment with color and pigments until he created the haunting colors that make his paintings so poignant. (Townsend 232)

The feeling of Constable’s work is most clearly seen in his own personal life. His most notable works are all from places the he spent a significant amount of time. They show a deep emotional attachment to the scenery and are often associated with his family or friends. He believed that nature was the source of all originality. His painting Stormy Sea, Brighton is the perfect example of how inner turmoil reflected in the themes of his paintings. This painting is dark and paint was applied vigorously in thick stokes. He painted it just four months before the death of his wife. The themes of his paintings were all noticeable darker after that. (Gray 15)

Joseph Turner is most noted for gloomy themes and include paintings of landscapes and storms at sea. He also took on the great task of showing the environmental impact that industry was having on Brittan and the world. His watercolors showed polluted skies and smoke from engineers in locomotives and boats. He seemed to shift between his fascination with the industrial revolution and the limits it still faced when met with the superiority of nature. He extensively studied steamboats and depicted them in many of his paintings. (Rodner 466)

Constable and Turner are some of the best artists in the romantic period. They both created great works of art using their own unique style. Constable created more lifelike paintings that have a lively tone. Turner’s paintings had no defined outlines of figures but more of a blurred look. Turner put more emotion into his paintings with his color and tones. The Romantic Period would not have been the same without the great artwork that these two artists contributed. 

Works Cited
Gray, Anne. “Constable: Impressions of Land, Sea and Sky.” Artonview Autumn 2006: 10-15.
Hawes, Louis. “Constable’s Hadleigh Castle and British Romantic Ruin Painting.” Art Bulletin 65 (1983): 455-70.
MacEvoy, Bruce. “Handprint : Joseph Mallord William Turner.” 12 Nov. 2007. 08 Mar. 2009 .
Rodner, William S. “Humanity and Nature in the Steamboat Paintings of J.M.W. Turner.” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 18 (1986): 455-74.
Townsend, Joyce H. “The Materials of J. M. W. Turner: Pigments.” Studies in Conservation 38 (1993): 231-54.