South Coast through East Anglian eyes

02 June 2017

Nicholas Cranfield sees the Constable show in Brighton

© Tate, London, 2016 

Beside the sea: Chain Pier, Brighton (1826-27) by John Constable, on loan (like the picture next to it) for this show

Beside the sea: Chain Pier, Brighton (1826-27) by John Constable, on loan (like the picture next to it) for this show

BETWEEN 1802 and 1804, the Rid­ing House and Stables, with their distinctive dome, were added to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton by William Porden, a pupil of Samuel Cockerell, who favoured the Mahomettan-Indian style. It was in 1802 that John Constable (1776-1837) first had a painting accepted at the Royal Academy.

Constable himself was no great lover of the seaside but, as this de­­lightful small exhibition demonstr­ates, on visits to “London on sea” in the 1820s he tackled seascapes with as much verve and observant detail as he brought to his views of the Stour and Dedham Lock.

Since 1950, the Tate has owned Constable’s large canvas Chain Pier, Brighton (1826-27). The link spans were a newly added feature of the coastal landscape of the Regency watering-hole, which also attracted Turner, who variously returned to paint it in the late 1820s.

Constable’s work (127 x 183cm) takes centre stage for this exhibition, which showcases paintings and sketches that he undertook in 1825-26 and when he returned to Brigh­ton in 1828.

Not that he only painted local scenes, of the dyke and the shipping on the sea front when he was there: as the accompanying publication, edited by Shân Lancaster and bene­fiting from the scholarship of Ian Warrell, makes clear, Constable also finished work that he had begun in his studio at Charlotte Street in London.

Furthermore, it is now suggested that several pictures that had always been thought to represent scenes in and around Hampstead Heath are most likely to be of Sussex, includ­ing the well-known Study of a Trunk of an Elm Tree (V&A Museum) and the mews Houses at Hampstead (private collection).

The Brighton-Dieppe packet boat provided a regular service to the Continent, but Constable never chose to go to France, even when his work was shown in the Paris salons to great accolade. He was awarded a gold medal by King Charles X in 1825, and Delacroix professed his indebtedness to the sort of land­scape art which he had pioneered, even though others sneered that he was no Poussin or Claude.

Constable came to Sussex under duress, being advised that the sea air would be good for the failing health of his wife, Maria. She died in No­­vember 1828, and Constable never seems to have lodged in Brighton again; but this exhibition makes clear how important it was for such brief visits as he made.

Whether or not he enjoyed being beside the seaside with his family, Constable’s brush became much freer and less intense.


“Constable and Brighton” is at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton, East Sussex, until 8 October. Phone 03000 290900.

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