Later Six-Foot Stour River Paintings
Over time Constable built up his sketches more elaborately with impastoed pigment, often using a palette knife to define forms; at the same time, the handling of finished works started to approach more closely the dynamic freedom of sketches. To capture the sparkle of sunlight, he applied flecks of white and yellow to the surface of paintings, an idiosyncratic touch that puzzled observers and eventually came to be derided as resembling snow or soapsuds. Critics began to note this effect with The Lock, 1824, the only vertically oriented canvas in the Stour River series.
The painting was enthusiastically received and sold on the first day of exhibition but, as the artist wrote to his confidant and patron John Fisher in 1824, "My execution annoys most of them and all the scholastic ones — perhaps the sacrifices I make for lightness and brightness is too much, but these things are the essence of landscape." The painting’s central protagonist, who presses down upon a crowbar to open the gate and release the water, introduces a jolt of action that distinguishes The Lock from the earlier, quieter Stour pictures. A similar energy is found in the last of the finished canal scenes, The Leaping Horse, 1825. Here a rider and horse jump over a cattle barrier on a towpath upstream from the Flatford mill. Perhaps the most commanding of the Stour River six-footers, The Leaping Horse is certainly the least topographically accurate, as Constable freely rearranged landscape features to arrive at a more satisfying composition. He continued to rework it well after the painting had been exhibited as a finished piece — a practice he carried out increasingly throughout his career. For example, he painted out a willow tree to the right of the horse and added a twisted stump to the very heart of the scene in a flurry of brushstrokes. Indeed, the drama of the painting comes in large part from its dynamic handling: many areas are worked out roughly with a palette knife, and dabs of white highlight are strewn across the canvas.
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