Friday, April 22, 2011

Arty Farty Friday ~ Constable and Turner

As this Arty Farty Friday is also Earth Day, I'm featuring two artists whose work honours the Earth (and the sea). Constable and Turner, two famous names, recognisable by anyone with even a passing interest in art. John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner, born just over a year apart in the second half of the 18th century. Two very different characters, their professional rivalry became a thing of legend.

I'm always surprised to learn of intense rivalry between artists - but I guess I shouldn't be. Artists are only human. It seems that rivalry between painters has gone on since man first picked up a paintbrush. Leonardo da Vinci versus Michelangelo, Matisse versus Picasso - well-documented examples of highly competitive rivals. 16th-century goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini even stabbed a competitor to death .

As for Constable and Turner, their styles differed more than their subject matter. Both were originally landscape artists, though Turner preferred sea scapes later on. Constable's style remained fairly constantly realist, with only occasional whispers of impressionism, while Turner's style developed from realism to out and out impressionism, to abstract. Rivalry was mutually felt, by all accounts, but from detail available it would appear that Turner was the more egotistical of the pair, at least in professional life, and I'd guess that he was more of a driving force in the rivalry.

Their personal lives reflect their innate differences too.

Constable (self portrait, 1806, left) was born in 1776 in rural Suffolk, in the south-east of England. He was son of a prosperous miller, came to art as a profession later in life than his rival, after working in his father's milling business, but always with an abiding interest in art and some early coaching from a local amateur artist. He never moved far from the south of England, where he found more than enough beautiful scenery and cloud-dappled skies to satisfy him. According to his first biographer, Constable was known in the neighbourhood as the "handsome miller", being "tall and well formed … with a fresh complexion, and fine dark eyes". Most of what is known about Constable’s personality comes from his letters. These show an emotional and affectionate man who was also capable of sarcasm and over-sensitivity. He married late, aged 40, in 1816, fathered seven children. His wife sadly died from tuberculosis in 1828, leaving Constable devastated. He died aged 61.

Turner (portrait as a young man, 1799, left) was born in 1775 in London, son of a barber and wigmaker. His mother was a seriously disturbed woman who had to be sent to an asylum and eventually went mad. He was into painting from a young age, and by the age of 27 was a Royal Academician. In contrast to Constable's staid lifestyle Turner travelled in Britain and Europe, had a wealthy patron and friend in the third Earl of Egremont. Both as man and artist though he was withdrawn and secretive, much about him was hidden. There are theories that he was dyslexic, for he is said to have been, at times "inarticulate to the point of incomprehensibility".

Turner never married, but fathered two children with a mistress. He died aged 76, and, according to Wikipedia, "in the house of his mistress Sophia Caroline Booth in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea on 19 December 1851. He is said to have uttered the last words "The sun is God" before dying..... Depiction of light in his paintings was always his "signature".



"There is no record of Turner's actual date of birth, which was sometime between late April and early May of 1775. The artist himself chose April 23 as the best candidate, possibly because it is also St. George's Day (patron saint of England, among many other places and organizations) and the birthday of William Shakespeare."

All we know for sure is that he was born in London, baptised on 14th May 1775.

John Constable was born on 11 June 1776 in East Bergholt (8 miles from Ipswich), Suffolk, England's not possible to compare the natal charts of the two artists in any depth. Even so, simply considering their two Sun signs, Gemini for Constable and Taurus for Turner - using his choice of 23 April - seems somewhat off the mark for Turner. He seems to have been unlike a staid, conservative Taurus-type. Constable seems far more of a Taurus-type in fact....but he wasn't.

I wonder whether 19 April might be nearer the mark for Turner, putting Sun in Aries. I think it would! That would leave a rather long gap to 14 May - the baptism - but not impossibly long I guess. A little research told me that towards the end of the 18th century baptism was increasingly postponed due to the changing economic, social and religious atmospheres.

There seems little point in posting a chart for a date "chosen" by Turner for his own patriotic reasons, or one I might think appropriate. I've taken a quick look at charts for 23 April, 20 April, 19 April and 7 May. Most have at least Mercury in Aries (tendency to be mentally competitive) Sun in Taurus (except for 19 April) ruled by Venus planet of the arts, is often found in the charts of artists.

Without an accurate birth date it's all pure guesswork, though one thing the dates around that particular period in 1775 have in common is Neptune and Pluto in trine (Virgo/Capricorn) further trined to one of the personal planets in or close to Taurus. This makes up an Earthy Grand Trine linking creativity (Neptune), secretiveness, darkness (Pluto) and one of the personal planets. Secretiveness has been covered, above - the darkness could reflect Turner's early unhappy youth - his mother's madness, and the death of his young sister.

John Constable's chart is easier to assess. Astrotheme offers a time of birth giving Aries rising, but Astrodatabank gives none. I've shown a 12 noon chart which is sufficient for a quick look.

Hmmm. 4 planets in Gemini - not exactly what I'd have expected to see. Gemini doesn't represent the staid stay-around-home mindset we are led to believe was Constable's. But balancing that Airy Gemini potential social butterfly image we have Mercury and Jupiter in home-loving, family-loving Cancer. In Constable's case it looks as though Cancerian traits beat down Geminian traits!

Constable had a similar Neptune/Pluto trine to the one in Turner's likely chart, but Constable's doesn't link cleanly to an Earthy personal planet - only loosely to Venus in early Gemini. So though it's still technically a Grand Trine, it's not quite as direct as Turner's, but still links Neptune's creativity and Venus's art with Pluto's potentially dark side - perhaps reflecting Constable's devastating early loss of his wife ?

Examples of their paintings:


The Cornfield (For US viewers - corn in Britain = wheat, not sweetcorn as in USA)

The White Horse

Dedham Mill

Salisbury Cathedral

Ive added these two, even though they don't translate to screen well, because they are Constable's paintings of the birthplace of my paternal grandfather, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk. I've never been there.


Arundel Castle with Rainbow

Fall of the Tees, Yorkshire

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire

The Fighting Temeraire

Calais Pier



Gian Paul said...

Nice post, Twilight. As was the one about Taurus, yesterday (which I forgot to say, distracted with my own Aries turbulences).

Also hope that your problems with computer bugs could be resolved. And a nice Easter to all of you!

Twilight said...

Gian Paul ~~~ Thank you kindly!

Something I meant to say in my reply to you yesterday - a belated Happy Birthday!, GP, b'day was a week ago I think. :-)

My computer hassles distracted me!

and a pleasant Easter weekend too.

James Higham said...

Turner never did it for me, Twilight. Too wishy-washy.

Anonymous said...

As a first week Taurus, I have met more than a few musicians, artists, designers, and general creative folk born between April 22-26th. The staid Tauri seem to be born after the 1st of May.

Twilight said...

James Higham ~~ I lean more towards Constable myself, when it comes to landscape painting.
Though I suspect that when seeing the actual paintings in a gallery there's something quite magical about Turner's depiction of light.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~ that's interesting- thanks for the observation.
I was close to a late (20 May) Taurus Sun person for many years - he had skills as an artist too and was anything but staid - so maybe the "staid" part of Taurus sits in the mid-sign sector.