Someone ran out of money. That is how a story always starts. We usually hear the ending. And by that time nobody really knows or cares about the beginning. They just see a headline that proclaims: John Constable painting “The Lock” sells for $35.6 million.
The seller, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former Miss Spain and widow of Swiss industrialist, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, needed the cash. The buyer, not surprisingly, is anonymous. The transaction set a record price for an English romantic painter.
But the real story, the one from the beginning, starts in 1776, the year celebrated as the official beginning of U.S. nationhood. Across the ocean, John Constable was born June 11, 1776 in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, UK. His father was a wealthy corn merchant who owned a small ship, The Telegraph, which was used to move corn to the bustling hubbub of London. John was destined to take over the family business; instead, he chose a more difficult path. He chose to be an artist.
John Constable’s paintings were of nature. He used a method that depended on what is called “divided tones” – pure colours placed side by side, using rapid brushstrokes, to re-create the vibrancy of external light. It was daring, even bold. The English Academy criticized his approach, but in France he was acclaimed. John Constable’s Romantic naturalism inspired other painters such as Delacroix and Gericault.
Unfortunately, only a handful purchased John Constable’s work in his lifetime, however his dedication remained firmly grounded in nature and landscape. Ironically, during his generation much of the land was being repurposed for the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps that is why, in today’s world, his work garners a high price.