Nicholas Penny

  • Constable: The Painter and his Landscape by Michael Rosenthal
    Yale, 255 pp, £15.95, April 1983, ISBN 0 300 03014 2
  • Constable’s England by Graham Reynolds
    Weidenfeld, 184 pp, £12.95, September 1983, ISBN 0 297 78359 9

When vegetable gardens were more commonly cultivated and poison was less frequently employed, and rabbits and mice were more of a menace to middle-class households than they are today, the classic picture books were published that encouraged children to love these creatures which their parents endeavoured to exterminate (or today, breed to kill). Sympathy repressed in the daily business of managing pantry, garden and farm was safely released in the bedtime fiction: but there must always have been awkward moments, such as the one I vividly remember when my mother endeavoured to allay my distress at discovering a crate of rabbits on its way to a laboratory by distinguishing between ordinary rabbits and ‘bunny rabbits’. Anyone who encourages in children a fondness for real as well as fictional farm animals must expect to have to make some painful explanations, although the English language, thanks to our Norman conquerors, provides some protection: we now eat lamb, it is true, but formerly we ate mutton (not sheep) and we still eat pork (not pig), veal (not calf) and beef (not cow). There are few more interesting problems for the student of pastoral art than that of identifying the shifts in convention determined by the need to avoid painful collisions between life and art.

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