Turner vs Constable: Britain’s greatest art rivalry

turner vs constable

You might have heard of both Turner and Constable previously but if you haven’t, it’s essential to get to know these two landscape masters who helped influence the impressionist art movement

Before we dive deep into the main differences and similarities of both of them, let’s get to know them better as individuals. 

Joseph Mallord William Turner, also known as William Turner (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851) was a British Romantic artist who mainly focused on painting landscapes with watercolours as well as oils. He produced his own unique style after the creation of his two first artworks, which influenced him to create scenes of vast colour and light using oil paint in a translucent and broad manner.

John Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was a British Romantic artist who had a huge influence in reviving the importance of landscape painting in the 19th century. He is well known for using oil to capture nature at the moment but later on moved onto working with watercolour.

Even though both were very much alike physically, were one year apart, were extremely influential in the romanticism art movement and had a huge impact in the world of landscape painting, their artworks were very different; same topic but different feeling. Constable had a more traditional approach whereas Turner was more of a rebel – both emphasized an emotional response to nature but had completely different visions and techniques.  

Their vision of nature

Constable was very detailed and clear when depicting what he saw on his canvas, he was loaded with emotion but was very detailed and controlled, his artworks were calm and flawless

Back in the time people were very subtle and enjoyed traditional artworks, but it all took a turn when Turner started finding his own style. His landscapes were chaotic and dramatic, overly exaggerated with dissolved images. Emotion and passion were taking control of his canvas, his artwork was viewed as “monstrous”, yet, people saw the beauty in it. 

Let’s differentiate their vision through these two paintings:

Their techniques

Turner used his imagination alongside rough sketches to create his mesmerizing landscapes. He used a liquid called Glaze to change the underlying paint layer, this can help change the value, hue, chroma and texture of a surface. When he started a painting he would start by adding wide brush strokes along the canvas, using his favourite tool, a hard-bristled brush. What really reflects his attitude towards art is the fact that he would leave the hairs from his brush behind in his paintings, showing how imperfection can turn into perfection.  

Constable became popular by using coffee and nature colours in all his artworks, his brushstrokes were delicate and subtle, he focused on adding a lot of detail. He created new techniques in order to give a realistic appearance to the trees and water by layering reds with the green of the trees, this way he was able to create a never-seen-before in comparison to the classical landscapes. As a young boy, he would spend hours upon hours sketching clouds, which he called “skying session” hence why he was later on able to capture the moment in such a powerful and detailed way.

Who was more popular?

It’s hard to choose between two artists that are so extremely different from one another, it all depends on the style of art that people like most or what they make each person feel. Critics such as John Ruskin thought Turner’s art has a more truthful measure of the moods of nature whereas Constable portrayed nature only in a tranquil way. Nevertheless, other critics and art fanatics believe it’s impossible to choose between them as they are so unique in their own way it would not be fair, their focus was the same but the way they portray it, their techniques and their emotions were totally different. 

It’s interesting to see how one rivalry changed the way landscape paintings were viewed, how it pushed one another to create artworks that had such a big influence in both the romantic movement and the development of the impressionist art movement, they changed art and allowed it to transform into what art is nowadays.

 

Their life quotes

“I don’t paint so that people will understand me, I paint to show what a particular scene looks like.”-

 – J. M. W. Turner

“I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may – light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.”

– John Constable

 

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