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
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Stinson Hunter and his associates Stubbs and Grime in Channel 4 documentary The Paedophile Hunter

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
This Banksy mural in Clacton has been removed by the council
art
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
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.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?