The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

49. When did you last paint your father?

Gripping news on page 3 of yesterday’s Guardian , finally ending years of fevered speculation, with “Constable’s parents finally identified.” Reading the article, one learns that the curators of an exhibition of Constable’s portraits at the National Gallery believe that two early paintings previously thought to be of other subjects might, following what was know doubt a very considered and painstaking process of academic enquiry, show his mother and father. Father, being a painting of a proud and grumpy looking man has inspired Constabologist Anne Lyles to imagine him as “barely having the patience to sit for him, snapping ’Oh get on with it!’” The far more lifeless portrait of ‘mother’ for some reason suggests her devotion and “willingness to sit for hours.”

Naturally, one turns to CONSTABLE, John in the ninth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica for further insight into what may be the most unexpected revelation about an English landscape painter's parentage to have hit the newspapers on a slow news day in living memory.
“Under the guidance of a certain John Dunthorne, a plumber, he acquired in early life some insight into the first principles of landscape art, together with a habit of studying in the open air that was afterwards of much service to him. His father, who was a yeoman farmer, did not care to encourage this tendency, and set him to work in one of his windmills. […]”

Initially, this appears to further support the National Gallery’s theory. I can certainly see the disapproval in the face of Constable’s ‘father,’ and can indeed almost hear him grumbling “Harrumph, your time would be better spent in a windmill, sir.”

And yet, might that not be the face of a proud plumber, contemplating the bucolic glories of the English landscape, whilst yet breathing the disagreeable vapours of a particularly badly-blocked drain?

One can only hope not, as the last thing our great land needs at this troubled moment in its history is an academic scandal of such unthinkable proportions. Accordingianists who may be contemplating a visit to the National Gallery, are asked to consider the state of the nation before venturing the opinion "Constable's father? Plumber, more like."

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