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Constable’s Gate-Post

Richard Bell’s Wild West Yorkshire nature diary,  Saturday, 25th  April 2009

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“WE KNEW A CASE some years ago of a young student in the Royal Academy, who copied in the painting school an elaborate landscape by an old master ; succeeding beyond his expectations, he felt a strong desire to paint a picture from nature, having now, as he thought, acquired sufficient power to justify the attempt. Accordingly, he went to the top of Highgate Hill, and commenced a picture of the entire prospect looking northward ; he worked hard for several days, but he found he was alternately painting in and rubbing out ; the constant changes of sunshine and shade, as they passed over the landscape, perfectly bewildered him, and the result was that he gave it up quite disheartened. He resolved, however, to show the little he had done to the late Mr. Constable (the painter of “The Cornfield” in the South Kensington Museum), and ask his advice. Mr. Constable looked first at the picture and then at the youth, and in a quiet way, though with unmistakable meaning, said, “My young friend, go and draw a gate-post, and when you have done that draw two posts, and go on till you can manage a dozen ; afterwards add a cottage, then a tree, and proceed in this way until you have the power to do something more elaborate before you think of painting such a subject as this. You have made precisely the same mistake that I made when I was your age ; you have begun at the wrong end.”

Sketching from Nature, Cassell’s Popular Educator, Volume III, c. 1865

sluice, Popular Educator, vol. III, c.1865

‘We have drawn dotted lines in the illustration to show the various directions in which the pencil might be held between the eye and the object, and the result it gives in deciding how the parts are placed in connection with each other’


Cassell’s Popular Educator, c. 1865


This drawing reminds me of the sluice gate in the foreground of John Constable’s The Leaping Horse (1825)

detail from Constable's 'The Leaping Horse', 1825