Art Review: Constable, Gainsborough, Turner @ Royal Academy

The three big names of landscape painting are in the exhibition title to draw in the crowds, but the real focus of this show is to chart the history and evolution of British landscape painting.

It starts off in a strange manner by showcasing how modern landscape artists have been influenced by the Romantics. Surely this would have been better left to the end? We then progress into the early days, where British artists were mere imitators — simply creating engravings of foreign masterpieces by Poussin, Lorrain and Rubens.

Visitors will have to wait until Room IV to catch some colour, where two impressive paintings by Constable display his mastery at capturing the moment of a leaping horse, as the water ripples around it and the clouds roll by. It’s a shame that these two works and a Romantic landscape by Gainsborough are the only pieces that truly clamour for visitors’ attention.

There is a section on watercolours but contemporaries such as Sandby and Rooker demonstrate how they were hamstrung by this medium and couldn’t compete with oil painters. Though engravings and mezzotints would’ve been big business in their day, this exhibition relies too heavily on them and would’ve benefitted from displaying more oils.

What’s missing is the narrative of how Constable and Gainsborough peaked with their realistic landscapes while Turner used this work as a jumping off point to progress into the more evocative works that he is best known for.

This is a short and rather disappointing exhibition. Considering all of the works are from the Royal Academy’s collection, the admission charge is also difficult to justify.

Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape is on display at the Royal Academy of Arts until 17 February. Tickets are £8 for adults, concessions available.

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  • HHGeek

    What a gloriously useful review. A) it drew my attention to something I’d missed as upcoming, b) it saves me from making the effort of going and then being resentful, and c) it does so nice and briskly. Thanking you.

    • http://twitter.com/LondonArtCritic Tabish Khan

      We always welcome positive feedback. Glad you liked the review and found it helpful.

  • Richard

    I couldn’t agree more with this review. I can only add that I found some of Constable’s other, smaller landscapes quite interesting. I even bought a copy of his Boat and Stormy Sky to compensate for an otherwise disappointing exhibition.