It was a beautifully warm and bright day as we met in the car park of Flatford Mill NT for our fourth project walk. Simon Carter is a well known East Anglian painter who has a studio in Frinton and walks every day to gather inspiration for his paintings, so it seemed fitting that we walk with him through a landscape painted by one of England's most famous painters, John Constable. We started the walk from one of the most iconic views of the English landscape, the site of Constable's painting 'The Haywain'. The view has changed little in the nearly 200 years since, with Willy Lott's Cottage (or House as it is actually called) the mill pond and surrounding flora all looking rather familiar. Simon told us how some of the landscape has been managed to preserve some similarities to the painting, as naturally trees and plants grow and die, and even the course of the river has slightly shifted. In fact, Constable had made some adjustments himself whilst painting the scene in 1821, having truncated the building in order to better balance proportions in the image.
We stopped at the site of several other paintings, including Boat Building on the Stour, Flatford Mill and Scene on a Navigable River. Simon explained some of techniques that Constable was using and, put in the context of the time these made him rather radical and not the chocolate box painter he is often regarded as now. Constable was documenting rural life and farming practices of the time and making the landscape itself the subject of paintings was a new idea as previously it was only depicted as background. It is now considered that Constable's way of painting the landscape has coloured the way that we see the countryside today.
The walk headed east and as we continued the landscape slowly empties out with less trees and vertical objects and longer views creating wider horizontals. Simon said that he thought this reflected the change in painting fashion from the 19th Century and in to the 20th and he used Constable and Mondrian as examples of this on the way. Our last stop was at the Cattawade Bridge Sluice and here the conversation turned to Simon's painting and sketching techniques. There were a fair few painters in the group and it was interesting to hear them discussing how they approached their work, which was nicely summed up by the phrase 'the world looks more like a painting than a photograph'.
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