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Weymouth Bay with Approaching Storm

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
English painting

Author(s):
Odin Alice

This view of a beach in Dorset, on the south coast of England, was painted about 1818-19 and exhibited at the British Institution in 1819. At the time, it was slightly smaller than it is today; two strips of canvas added by the artist at the top and on the left-hand side can just be made out. The work, in its enlarged form, was engraved at Constable's request by David Lucas as one of the illustrations for Constable's volume English Landscape Scenery.

Between landscape painting and an evocation of elemental nature

Long vistas open out in this view of a Dorset shoreline. Apart from the rocks in the foreground and the heights of a cliff on the left, nothing obstructs the view, neither the heavy sky nor the choppy sea. There is nothing but a great expanse of beach, which two figures cross. The color palette goes hand in hand with the various facets of nature depicted: meadows in the distance are rendered in greens, and the shoreline and rocks are painted in ochres, orange tones, and chestnut browns. The stark contrast between the dark blue of the clouds and sea and the white of the foam indicate that a storm is about to break. The harmonious arrangement of the various elements of nature depicted is achieved with serried ranks of paint stokes that seem to marshal the whole of the landscape. Appealing to the viewer's imagination, Constable depicted the moment before the storm.

Observation of a storm

This picture dates to about 1818-19, a moment in Constable's career when the experience of being outdoors was at the heart of his work. In developing this theme, Constable sought out different atmospheric conditions in order to capture the various moments of the day. It was a period when he was particularly fascinated by the changing sky, and when his observations of nature took on an almost scientific aspect.
In 1830 Constable added two strips of canvas, enlarging the upper part and the left-hand side of the painting. In doing so, he underlined the importance to him of the sea and sky, which are the real subjects of the picture. The same principle lies behind Constable's many different views of the city of Salisbury, which he painted at different times of the year and from various viewpoints over more than thirty years. Thus we now have representations of the small city at different seasons and under a variety of weather conditions.

The triumph of English landscape painting

While there was considerable French interest in British landscape painting, many years passed before it began to exert an influence on French artists. Constable's work gained wide public attention at the Salon of 1824.
At the time, English landscape painters were striving to render in detail the various aspects of landscape by painting studies in the open air, surrounded by nature. Observation was the key word in landscape painting, and the goal was to be able to focus on precise details in the painted canvas.
This simple and idyllic vision of the English countryside lives on as a celebration of nature in the face of the increasing industrialization and urbanization that England underwent in the nineteenth century.

Technical description

  • John CONSTABLE (East Bergholt, Suffolk, 1776-London, 1837)

    Weymouth Bay with Approaching Storm

    1819

    London

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 0.88 m; L. 1.12 m

  • Gift of John W. Wilson, 1873

    R.F. 39

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Goya
    Room 32

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