Constable and Salisbury: The Soul of Landscape, Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, Salisbury

Salisbury, the city where Constable spent his honeymoon and returned after his wife's death, is welcoming his paintings back

On 23 November 1828, Maria Constable drew her last, bloody breath, worn away bytuberculosis and the birth of seven children. For her husband, John Constable, the sky grew dark.

His best friend, the Rev John Fisher, sent a letter to him from Weymouth: "I write with the hope of giving you comfort, but really I know not how." There was no consoling Constable, who, according to his biographer, "became a prey to melancholy" and wore black for the rest of his life.

Mention Constable country and we think of Suffolk, the place where John courted the young Maria. There was another Constable country, though, to which the painter had been introduced in 1811 by John Fisher via his uncle, also John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury. In 1816, Constable went back to the city, this time on his honeymoon. There were to be three more happy visits, in 1820, 1821 and 1823; and two desperately unhappy ones in 1829, in the months after Maria's death. In sorrow as in joy, Constable turned to Salisbury, to its cathedral and cathedral close, home to the two John Fishers.

The support they gave him was more than emotional. Thanks to The Hay Wain, we think of Constable as the English painter, a national treasure. That is a later truth: Constable sold only 20 paintings in England in his lifetime, locals finding his palette-knife impasto too daring. It was the French who took him to their breast, Delacroix gasping at the anti-classical colourism of The Hay Wain at the Paris Salon of 1824, the Impressionists modelling their brushwork on it. Of the paintings he sold at home, many were connected with the two John Fishers.

So a show of Constable's Salisbury works brought together in The Close has several things going for it. The most obvious – and heart-stopping – is that you can look at the paintings of this great cathedral and then, through the window, at the thing itself. There is something of the sublime in the building, the way it seems to soar and to weigh down on you; and Constable, ever Romantic, saw it. Among the various dualities of Salisbury for him – joy and pain, the built and the natural – is the cathedral itself, its beauty and potential horror.

In 1823, he paints it for Bishop Fisher – Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds, a strange work, the church rendered flat and thin behind a repoussoir screen of trees and cows. (Bishop Fisher, disliking the clouds of this one, had an infuriated Constable re-do it.) In 1829-30, with Maria and the bishop dead, there is Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows – an entirely different thing, the church now incidental to the picture's composition, Constable's roiling paint picking up on clouds and horses, white flecks of light. In terms of balance, it is a close-run thing: God or Nature, order or disorder, faith or its lack.

By 1831, something has changed again. Constable paints a second Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, a vast canvas, 5ft by 6ft. In this new scale, the tightness that held the earlier work together is lost, and with it traditional colour harmonies. The later Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is something between a bruise and a wound, plum-coloured, open, raw. It is a picture of a church and a portrait of pain. You may never get the chance to see it in Salisbury again, so do.

The Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, King's House, 65 The Close (01722 332151), to 25 September.

Next Week:

Charles Darwent dips a toe into the Venice Biennale

Art Choice

Another new David Chipperfield gallery, this one in Yorkshire, is now open; visit The Hepworth Wakefield for major displays of the local sculptor Barbara Hepworth's works alongside changing exhibitions – the first is by sculptor Eva Rothschild (to 9 Oct). At London's Hayward, Tracey Emin gets a major retrospective in Love Is What You Want, until 29 Aug.

Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map