Some thirty years ago, following the passing of a young friend of the family, we were donated a few items of furniture for use in the old person’s home we ran at the time. On collection of said items we were also asked if there was anything else we could make use of, pictures etc. In amongst them was a largish reproduction of a John Constable painting which I thought would fill a space on the main lounge wall above the fireplace, and there it stayed until we sold up in 2006 and moved from our home of the previous 28 years. The painting moved with us; by now it had become very faded and quite blue in colour and really should have been consigned to a skip, but seeing a nail on the bedroom wall in my new home I temporarily hung it there to fill the space and that’s where it still hangs.
The original, in the Tate Gallery, was painted in 1816 and is entitled “Flatford Mill (scene on a navigable river)”. Constable’s painting is 3ft 8in x 3ft 3in and my reproduction is 3ft 3in x 2ft 2in so there has been some considerable top cropping removing much of the sky shown here and a little from the bottom of the original, so destroying the proportions Constable intended for his painting.
I can’t help feeling though, that Constable was not thinking clearly when he painted this scene. If he had been a photographer I would have suspected someone had tripped over his tripod and deflected the camera from the main interest in the picture. Don’t get me wrong, I love the wealth of detail in this picture but let’s take a closer peek and see what’s in there.
The main interest which immediately takes your eye is the horse in the foreground, this is in the classic position on the third and is the main focal point. The bare-footed young boy astride the horse seems to be waiting for a command to move forward by the older boy with the rope just behind him, whilst the boat handler struggles with a boat pole to gain control of his pair of unwieldy craft which have snaked out of a straight line. In the background can be seen the river lock and beyond it Flatford Mill itself, a subject of many of Constable’s paintings. The question has to be asked though, why did Constable crop the boats? They feature very prominently in the picture as a main subject and yet are falling out of the picture.
All the main activity in this painting is in the bottom left half quarter of the picture. The bottom right contains a large tree which is acting as an anchor to the image and connecting the lower half of the painting with the wonderful sky, the sort of sky that landscape photographers drool over. Coming round in front of the tree is presumably the bypass weir from the lock and in the distance we can see a landworker with a scythe over his shoulder and some anglers in the middle distance. On the ground in front of the horse is a battered hat, presumably belonging to the older boy, along with a horse crop, both boys probably riding when the boat is moving along. A huge wealth of detail is in this painting and it’s an image I never tire of, I just wish Constable had not cropped the boats though and had bought a wider canvas to work on!