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Art: Constable's masterful Salisbury Cathedral

Constable's The Cathedral is on show at the National Museum

Constable’s The Cathedral is on show at the National Museum

The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff is always worth a visit and even more so now Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is on show.

The painting is believed to be one of the most complex from the Constable collection, and with so many unanswered questions surrounding the piece, rightly so.

As a great masterpiece of British art, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows was bought for the nation by five public collections.

National Museum of Wales are one of the contributors dedicated to keeping this exquisite piece of British art alive and encouraging the public to enjoy it’s beauty.

The six-foot painting from 1831 is richly engaging and you really can get lost in the stormy yet domesticated scene. Pulling up a gallery chair and relaxing for half an hour is perfect.

The painting itself can look a little stagnant if you simply wander past, but to stop and look you’ll notice just how much incredible movement there is in the image.

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

The rolling clouds dominate the left hand side of the frame and the misty rainfall only adds to the sense of fluidity within the painting. Birds in mid-flight scatter the field beyond, bringing a vibrant sense of life to the country scene.

Salisbury Cathedral, which became a place of serenity for Constable as he mourned the premature death of his wife, can be seen surrounded by a raging storm.

The cathedral spire pierces the stormy clouds, a pictorial technique drawing the observer’s eye to the sublime power of nature.

The sublime clearly exists in Constable’s painting but he cleverly pairs this with themes of domestication.

We see houses in background, a man with his horse drawn cart and a dog in the foreground, all alluding to this idea of a domesticated country life.
There are also personal elements to the painting as Constable offers his thanks to his good friend John Fisher for housing him in Salisbury.

John Fisher’s house is painted at the end of the rainbow, a touching reminder of the comfort Constable found in his friend during an incredibly sad time in his life.

So many unanswered questions surround the painting. ‘From the meadows’ implies a whole world behind the frame and the warm light pouring in from the right gives way to a less stormy environment.

The museum works hard to ensure children can feel involved and understand themes around the painting. An iPad has been installed alongside the painting, encouraging children to actively interact and think about the painting’s themes.

It’s well worth a visit, and spending a good 20 minutes in the gallery will help. The exhibition is free and open between 10am – 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

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