In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

At the V&ARosemary Hill
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

Constable​ , as the V&A’s press release puts it, is ‘Britain’s best-loved artist’, and that in a way is the problem. (Constable: The Making of a Master is at the V&A until 11 January.) While his contemporary Turner bestrides the history of European art, Constable remains a largely domestic taste. There was a time when almost every home had a reproduction of The Hay Wain. Tours of ‘Constable country’ on the Essex-Suffolk border were popular by 1893 and are still going strong. It all contributes to the image of a local artist painting agreeable scenes. Those who have looked more closely at his work have seen more in it, but disagree about what the more is. Roger Fry admired the energy of the sketches, the aspect of Constable that flatters posterity by seeming to point to Post-Impressionism and abstraction. Kenneth Clark also thought that the sketches had a ‘force of sensation’, but found the finished oils a ‘bore’. John Berger took the opposite view, that the completed works were rich in brilliant light effects, but the sketches were weakened by vague Romanticism. More recent left-wing critiques, especially since John Barrell’s The Dark Side of the Landscape appeared in 1980, have disagreed again, taking Constable to task as a reactionary Tory, sentimentalising and tidying up the rural poor.

Since 1888 when Isabel, Constable’s last surviving daughter, gave the Victoria and Albert the hundreds of drawings and sketches that were the contents of her father’s studio, as well as a bequest of three finished oils, the museum’s collection has been at the heart of Constable studies and the management of his slippery reputation. It has borne the challenge bravely. The late Graham Reynolds, keeper of the Department of Paintings, wrote the catalogue raisonné and Mark Evans, curator of this exhibition, was also responsible for John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum, which toured to the United States in 2012. But while that exhibition could be presented as offering an insight into the artist’s working methods, the present show, perhaps hoping to underpin Constable’s position in art history, strains for an argument. The one it makes, that Constable was not a naive artist painting directly from nature but was influenced by old masters and contemporary painting is true, but nobody has seriously questioned it. As Ernst Gombrich wrote in 1960, ‘That the artist can learn from tradition … it never entered Constable’s mind to doubt.’

His friend and biographer C.R. Leslie described the attic bedroom in Constable’s house in Bloomsbury as so densely hung with engravings that ‘his feet nearly touched a print of the beautiful moonlight by Rubens.’ The most effective display in the exhibition brings together as many of those images as possible to re-create the scene that greeted Constable each morning. Elsewhere the point becomes laboured, the material better suited to a learned article than an exhibition. The real joy of the show is the opportunity to see the range of Constable’s work throughout his life and to revolve once more his curious afterlife.

‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ (1831).

‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ (1831).

It is ironic if perhaps predictable that the sustained comparison with earlier artists serves to emphasise the extent to which Constable was of his own time: a Georgian, a Romantic, the product of a generation that saw revolution abroad and disorder at home, that was torn between reaction and radicalism and lived on the brink of modern science and industrialisation. There is nothing very surprising in his choice of mentors and models, notably Claude, on whose landscapes the Picturesque taste of his own day was largely based, and the Dutch and Flemish masters who were also popular with his contemporaries. More revealing is what he did with them. Rubens’s Landscape by Moonlight is shown here with Constable’s Moonlight Landscape with Hadleigh Church of 1796. The influence is clear while the titles reflect the difference, the contrast between Rubens’s general and Constable’s particular scene, between the breadth of the 17th century and the intimate specificity of the late 18th. In Constable’s picture firelight from a Gypsy encampment reddens the tree trunks in the wood to the right of the canvas. It is a miniature scene within a scene conceived with a knowledge of Wright of Derby’s popular night pieces, The Blacksmiths’ Shops and An Iron Forge.

The scenic possibilities of industrialisation, the blazing furnaces and hurtling engines that attracted Turner, didn’t interest Constable greatly, though the exhibition includes one oil sketch of a kiln on Hampstead Heath, its red glow and black smoke against yellowing autumn leaves and a sky of high clouds. As in his politics so in his art his response was to resist, to look back from a personal as much as a historical perspective. His most famous mature works were done largely from memory, after he had left Constable country and moved to London in 1817. The Hay Wain was painted in Keppel Street on a site that now lies beneath Charles Holden’s monumental London University Senate House and was, even then, entirely urban. The painting recalls the pre-enclosure landscape of Constable’s childhood. Its setting, at noon, evokes a high point, a brief moment of stasis in the business of life or of a lifetime. It is in such latent tensions between one moment and the next, movement and stillness that Constable’s peculiar genius is most striking.

‘Study of Cirrus Clouds’ (c.1821).

‘Study of Cirrus Clouds’ (c.1821).

Responding to contemporary opinion he noted that his work had been condemned by a French critic as being like ‘rich preludes in musick … which mean nothing’. Surely, Constable wrote to a friend, this was ‘the highest praise?’ ‘What is poetry?’ he continued, ‘what is Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner (the very best modern poem) but something like this?’ The Ancient Mariner has a narrative, but that isn’t its meaning, any more than Constable’s landscapes are documents of rural life and work. They are, as much as any poem, the products of emotion recollected in tranquillity, which isn’t to say that Constable was apolitical, any more than Coleridge was. A Tory, a landowner’s son who dreaded the Reform Act of 1832, his Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, painted in 1831 as the bill was struggling through Parliament, shows the cathedral, the beau idéal of English Gothic, under storm clouds riven with a great rainbow. By then Salisbury Cathedral had become a symbol for reformers like Cobbett as much as for Tories of all that was best and worst in England at a time when it was experiencing the most serious civil unrest in its history. Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is not a polemic: it represents a moment of suspense at a point of crisis.

The current of contemporary ideas flows through Constable’s work. It is there in his remark that painting was a ‘science’, a loaded word at that date. William Whewell, prompted by Coleridge, coined the term ‘scientist’ in 1833, but before that there was, for most of Constable’s life, a free-flowing interchange between art and the ever expanding catch-all of ‘natural philosophy’. Luke Howard’s essay of 1803, ‘On the modification of clouds, and on the principles of their production, suspension and destruction’, established the categories, cumulus, cirrus and nimbus, by which clouds are still known. Howard’s taxonomy inspired Thomas Rickman to establish the phases of Gothic Architecture – Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular – on the same principle, and Howard’s clouds also lie behind Constable’s. His meticulous sky studies are often annotated in pencil. ‘Cirrus’, he writes on the back of one and ‘wind very brisk & effect bright & fresh. Clouds moving very fast with occasional very bright openings to the blue’ on another. If Keats affected to think that science had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow, Constable saw how the close observation of the scientist well became a painter who was interested in rainbows.

The cloud studies are among those oil sketches of ineffable brilliance that Clark and many others have preferred since Constable’s death to the pictures he regarded as finished works, and they are well represented in the exhibition. As well as skies and landscapes there are scenes, like the fair in his native East Bergholt, where out of streaks of light and cloud and dots of white a landscape of tents and fair-goers arranges itself before the eye. The sketches appeal to us now in a way that Constable would not have foreseen or perhaps liked. That hardly matters. What the exhibition demonstrates is the range of an artist too often seen as narrow, and his mastery of Romantic spots of time. One of his strangest finished paintings, The Leaping Horse, is here; a canal-side scene in which a barge horse is being jumped over a cattle barrier on the towpath so that it can continue on the other side. Meanwhile the boat waits. Horse and rider are in motion against a scene of stillness. As a whole the narrative is undramatic to the point of banality, yet the picture is imbued with immanent mystery, with Constable’s idea of the poetic landscape which resonates and ‘means’ nothing.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 36 No. 22 · 20 November 2014

Rosemary Hill writes that ‘while his contemporary Turner bestrides the history of European art, Constable remains a largely domestic taste’ (LRB, 23 October). This is to ignore Constable’s popularity in France, where he sold more paintings than in England, and where his ideas and techniques influenced a generation of artists. Within a decade of Constable’s death a group of painters had gathered at Barbizon dedicated to what he called the ‘close observation of nature’. No such school had yet been inspired by Turner, who was still alive at this point and producing the late works that even his great champion Ruskin considered ‘indicative of mental disease’. Not until the retreat from realism in the later 19th century was Constable’s reputation eclipsed by that of his rival.

Tim Hawken
London SE14

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.