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Days Out in Brighton - Constable and Brighton exhibition

Nothing here for a painter but the breakers - and the sky, was the first thing I noticed as I entered the gallery for a private viewing of the new Constable and Brighton exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.

The solitary quote in beautiful handwriting spread itself high above eye level, above the line of sketches and paintings that flowed across the centre of the walls. Painted in an off-white colour, the quotation glimmered against the backdrop of rich slate-grey.

Days Out in Brighton - Constable and Brighton exhibition, photo by modern bric a brac

It also set the scene for a truly magical exhibition that focuses on the short period of time 1824-8 when the great painter Constable lived in Brighton and Hove with his family. His wife Maria after years of childbirth and suffering from Tuberculosis was recommended to go to Brighton for her health. On their first visit they lived at an address on Sillwood Road, which by some great synchronicity is now lived in by another artist and the curator of this exhibition, Peter Harrap.

It was a connection that was first hinted at thirty years before to another inhabitant of the street, journalist Shan Lancaster. However, it wasn't until Peter Harrap had also moved into the street, a few years ago that a shared passion for Constable led them to undertake some detective work to establish the truth of the claim.

Days Out in Brighton - Constable and Brighton exhibition, photo by modern bric a brac

Once they had discovered enough to validate Constable's connection to the address they were able to obtain a blue plaque for the building, while the passion for Constable continued to grow.

The result is an exhibition curated with great sensitivity. Using a mixture of 60 paintings and sketches the exhibition takes us on three popular routes that Constable would have regularly walked when he was staying in Brighton.

Days Out in Brighton - Constable and Brighton exhibition, photo by modern bric a brac

The exhibition for the first time reunites pictures that would normally form part of some very prestigious collections such as the British Museum, the Royal Academy, Tate and the Courtauld Gallery as well as some paintings on loan from private collections.

The first route takes us out towards Shoreham along the coast. On route Constable sketched and painted what he saw in front of him. The tops of windmills appear just beyond the brow of the hill, waves crash on the shore, storm clouds break overhead. Constable was interested in watching storms gather and would observe cloud formation and then capture it on canvas, a practice he called skying.

Days Out in Brighton - Constable and Brighton exhibition, photo by modern bric a brac

By following the paintings around the room there's a strong sense of what his walks would have been like, what the weather was like, what he saw, the colours, the movement, it all comes back to life.

Back to the fabulous colour of the walls for a moment, it's the colour of a rain cloud just about to drop. Set against this backdrop the colours in the pictures seem more vivid, the blues of the sky and sea, as well as the earthy shades of the shore line and paths. Such sensitivity to colour is particularly fitting in an exhibition that highlights how Constable experimented with colour. As explained in the gallery on one of the information boards, "he used pink tone to underpin a dramatic cloudscape or an earthy base to anchor a stormy day."

Days Out in Brighton - Constable and Brighton exhibition, photo by modern bric a brac

As I had travelled around the rooms peering up close at each picture while walking forward I found that I had walked along the length of two rooms without noticing I had reached the great painting of the Chain Pier at the far end. I turned my head and it was right in front of me, the scale in comparison to the other paintings took me by surprise, I felt as if I could walk straight into it. Hung just off the floor the painting has been hung at a really great height. There were also no overhead lights obscuring any part of the painting so it really was a joy to see up close.

What becomes incredibly interesting is discovering how all the components he has picked up on his walks along the way reappear to greater effect in this painting. In the distance is the very familiar (to me) Marine Parade. Bathing huts cluster on the beach, the wind blows ladies shawls around them, a storm cloud broods in the distance and in the foreground are signs of fishermen's nets. It's a wonderfully huge painting, full of movement and it's a wonder to think it never sold in his lifetime.

Days Out in Brighton - Constable and Brighton exhibition, photo by modern bric a brac

What is rather sad is that although the health of his beloved wife did improve as a result of their first visit to Brighton, it did not enable her to make a full recovery. Neither did subsequent stays and she died in the autumn of 1828.

During their final visit to Brighton when Maria was very ill, Constable would fill his pockets with plants to study at home so that he could be close to her. This habit of his has been recreated for the exhibition. On a table, at a perfect height for little ones, there are a series of bags and items to sketch so that visitors can experience one of the methods employed by Constable to build up components for his paintings.

Days Out in Brighton - Constable and Brighton exhibition, photo by modern bric a brac

Constable and Brighton exhibition 8 April – 8 October 2017, curated by Brighton artist Peter Harrap, in consultation with renowned Constable expert Anne Lyles (formerly of Tate) and with support from researcher Shan Lancaster.

Exhibition price included in Museum admission fee /£3.50 residents, members and children free 
Advanced booking is highly recommended for this exhibition. Get a 10% discount by pre-booking your ticket online, via
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Royal Pavilion Garden, Brighton BN1 1EE, UK

To accompany this exhibition there are also a series of talks and a book of essays, Constable and Brighton edited by Shan Lancaster and published by Scala Arts and Heritage Publishers Ltd.

The events are as follows:

Walking and painting
Thursday 4 May12pm Free with admission to the exhibition
A gallery tour with exhibition curator, Peter Harrap, exploring Constable's artwork inspired by his three regular walks from 9 Mrs Sober's Gardens, Brighton.

The Landscape of the arts in Constable’s time
Thursday 25 May2.30pm Free with admission to the exhibition
Royal Pavilion curator, Alexandra Loske, talks about beginnings of the Royal Academy and the rise of landscape painting as a genre in the late 18th and early 19th century.

‘Some Golden Visions’: Turner and Constable
Thursday 15 June12pm Free with admission to the exhibition
This gallery talk by Royal Pavilion curator, Alexandra Loske, compares the different styles and attitudes of two giants of British art.

’I am the man of clouds’:  Constable’s skies
Thursday 29 June2.30pm Free with admission to the exhibition
Alexandra Loske, Royal Pavilion curator, takes a closer look at Constable’s cloud studies, what informed them, and how contemporary artists still use the fleetingness of clouds as inspiration.

Constable and Caspar David Friedrich
Friday 14 July, 2.30pm Free with admission to the exhibition
Alexandra Loske, Royal Pavilion curator, looks at differences and similarities between Constable and the great German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich.  British Sigh Language interpreted for deaf and hard of hearing visitors.

Nature and the individual in Romantic art
Friday 25 August2.30pm Free with admission to the exhibition
Explore how human figures fit into the landscape painting of the Romantic age, and how critics responded to Constable, Turner and their contemporaries, with Royal Pavilion curator Alexandra Loske. British Sign Language-interpreted for deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors.

Colour in Constable’s time
Saturday 9 September11.30am Free
What did Constable paint with and where did he get his colours from?  Royal Pavilion curator, Alexandra Loske takes closer look at new pigments, artists’ materials and colour theory in the 18thand 19th centuries.

John and Maria Constable in Brighton
Thursday 21 September, 12pm Free with admission to the exhibition
Exhibition curator, Peter Harrap, describes John and Maria’s personal challenges and successes during their years in Brighton.

Best wishes

Sarah xx

Sarah Agnew
Blogger, Modern Bric a Brac

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