Hadleigh Castle (Progress Proof b)
The two remaining towers of Hadleigh Castle stand in the left register of the picture plane. A single scrawny tree grows between the decaying stone edifices. The surrounding hillside is completely void of life, and the lower right corner is densely blackened, as is the rocky slope to the estuary. In the lower right corner a patch of grass is illuminated. The darkness dominating the bottom half of the composition turns to light at the horizon, creating a shining line of white where the shadowy water meets the sky. The sky, a mixture of clouds and rays of light, is composed alternately of gray, deep black, and white. A bright patch of light opens the sky slightly left of the center.
Copyright, 2009, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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Printing ContextThis image was first published in a series of twenty-two mezzotints engraved by David Lucas and titled Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristics of English Scenery, from Pictures Painted by John Constable, R.A. (London, 1830-32), generally known today as English Landscape.
Associated EventsFrom 1829 until his death, Constable devoted much of his time and money to the business of print-making and publishing. The result was a series of twenty-two mezzotints engraved under his close supervision by David Lucas (1802-1881) and entitled Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristics of English Scenery, from Pictures Painted by John Constable, R.A. The series was initially issued in segments between June 1830 and July 1832. Lucas also engraved several smaller plates after Constable’s death. The project was conceived in the months following Constable’s long-delayed election to the Royal Academy and represents in some ways the perspective of an artist “who had yet to make a mark with the public (at least in England) and who still had much to say” (Parris and Fleming-Williams 319). The text he wrote to accompany the images acts as an apologia, asking his audience to re-evaluate his work and help him gain the fame he believed he deserved. In 1833 the added subtitle, Principally Intended to Mark the Phenomena of the Chiar’ Oscuro of Nature, explained Constable’s intention behind the project. According to Constable, chiaroscuro was both a means of defining space and articulating a picture surface, as well as a principle of nature itself. For Constable, it was the technique through which “the grand and varied aspects of Landscape are displayed, both in the fields and on canvas” (Constable 2). By working with mezzotint, which is arguably the most chiaroscuratic of print techniques since the effects of black and white are created by scraping and burnishing new plates, Constable was able (with Lucas's aid) to zero in on the interaction between light and dark and explore a new tonal range (Parris and I. Fleming-Williams 319).
This print was the first of several plates created by Lucas with Constable’s co-operation. In a letter dated 26 February 1830, Constable told Lucas that he did not have “the wish to become the owner of the large plate of the Castle, but I am anxious that it should be fine, & will take all pains with it. It will not fail of being so, if I may now judge” (John Constable’s Correspondence 325). Constable later added in the same letter, “Bring me another large Castle or two or three, for it is mighty fine—though it looks as if all the chimney sweepers in Christendom had been at work on it & thrown their soot bags up in the air. Yet every body likes it.”
In 1814, Constable visited the ruins while touring south Essex with an old friend, the Reverend W.W. Driffield, the vicar of Feering near Colchester. In a letter to his betrothed Maria Bicknell, Constable wrote that “‘there is a ruin of a castle which from its situation is really a fine place—it commands a view of the Kent hills, the nore and north foreland & looking many miles to the sea’” (John Constable’s Correspondence 127). He made a drawing of the view in the sketchbook he was carrying at the time, and based this painting, and its ancillary sketches, upon this primary perception. It is significant that at the time of the initial sketch, Constable was in the midst of the most discouraging stage of his courtship with Maria. This depression is reflected in his aforementioned letter when he writes that he had "walked upon the beach at South End. I was always delighted with the melancholy grandeur of a sea shore" (John Constable’s Correspondence 127). Constable only returned to the sketch after Maria's death in November, 1828. Many scholars believe that this scene of loneliness and decay was especially poignant for Constable in times of desolation. In a letter to C.R. Leslie dated January 21, 1829, Constable writes “I have been ill but I have endeavored to get to work again—and could I get a float on a canvas of six feet I might have a chance of being carried away from myself” (John Constable’s Correspondence 255). A later letter from Abram Constable suggests that it is the composition of Hadleigh Castle that lifted the painter out of his depression: “You will now proceed with your Picture of the Nore—and I think it will be beautiful” (John Constable’s Correspondence 255).
Associated PlacesHadleigh Castle
Hadleigh Castle is a thirteenth-century ruin located approximately 150 feet above the Thames near Southend-on-Sea; it rests on a hill with an abrupt drop to the estuary below. The ruins of two towers form the principle portion of the remains, one at the north-east end and the other at the south-east end. Although they have been considerably reduced in height, the northern tower being nearly demolished, enough of each edifice stands to suggest that they were originally identical in form and construction. The towers are externally circular, internally hexagonal, and are approximately sixty feet apart, at one point having been connected by a wall eight feet thick and twenty feet high; however, very little of the masonry now remains above ground. A local legend also claims that the ruins are haunted “by a lady dressed in white [who is] anxious to divulge the burial place of [a] vast treasure” (White 2). The castle was built by Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, during the reign of Henry III. Hadleigh Castle was one of the four fortified buildings of the Eastern Counties, called “Royal Castles,” that were built for national security (W 168). After a series of repossessions, the castle was finally granted by Edward VI to Richard, Lord Riche; it passed from him to the Bernard family, and they demolished part of the edifice and left the remains to decay (“The Banks of the Thames” 203-4). According to “A Visit to Hadleigh Castle,” an article from the 1866 periodical Once a Week, “[t]he pleasing and extensive prospect which is commanded from Hadleigh Castle, attracts numerous visitors from Southend and the surrounding neighbourhood during the summer months—the picturesque ruin offering great temptations for those who delight in pic-nic parties and such like healthful out-door recreation” (W 168).
Associated TextsConstable, John. Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle.'. 1828-29. Oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom.
---. Sketch of Hadleigh Castle. 1828-29. Oil on millboard. Paul Mellon Collection, Upperville, Virginia.
---. Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle.' 1828-29. Pen and ink. Private Collection (Mr. and Mrs. David Thomson).
---. A Shepherd. Pen and ink. The Horne Foundation Museum, Florence, Italy.
---. Hadleigh Castle, A Distant View. n.d. Oil on canvas. Private Collection, on loan to the City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham.
---. Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames—Morning after a Stormy Night. 1829. Oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, Connecticut.
Lucas, David; after John Constable. Hadleigh Castle. c. 1830-32. Mezzotint with etching, engraver’s proof. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, Connecticut.
---. Hadleigh Castle near the Nore (Progress Proof “a”). c. 1832. Mezzotint. Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
---. Hadleigh Castle near the Nore (Progress Proof “b”). c. 1832. Mezzotint. Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
SubjectThis image depicts the ruins of Hadleigh Castle. A reformulation of Constable's earlier painting of the same scene, this mezzotint explores new possibilities for the symbolic manipulation of landscape, specifically through the application of chiaroscuro.
ThemeRuin. Picturesque. British. Historical consciousness. History. Landscape. Place. Print culture. Tourism. Travel.
SignificanceWhile Constable’s oil paintings primarily sought to preserve the integrity of the scene being depicted, the mezzotints from Constable and Lucas’s English Landscape explore new possibilities for the symbolic manipulation of landscape. Embracing Constable’s artistic philosophy that there were two kinds of artists, “the imitator or the eclectic who gains ready acceptance by retailing the familiar, and the innovator who adds to art ‘qualities of Nature unknown to it before,’” Constable and David Lucas reproduced many of Constable’s earlier paintings using the engraving technique of mezzotint, a method that allowed them to play with the tonal range of a given landscape (Parris and Fleming-Williams 319). This technique also utilized Constable’s concept of chiaroscuro (or the contrast between light and dark) as the only means of defining artistic space and depicting the reality of nature on the canvas. In marked contrast to the original painting, which features two shepherds and several animals, this particular print depicts the ruins as completely devoid of life, replacing figures with an overwhelming darkness that changes the entire mood of the composition.
BibliographyConstable, John and David Lucas. Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery, from Pictures Painted by John Constable, R.A.. London: J. Constable, 1830-1832. Print.
Cormack, Malcolm. Constable. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. Print.
Fleming-Williams, Ian. Constable: Landscape Watercolours & Drawings. London: The Tate Gallery, 1976. Print.
Gray, Thomas. The Traveller's Companion, in a Tour through England and Wales; Containing a Catalogue of the Antiquities, Houses, Parks . . . in England and Wales, Arranged . . . by the late Mr. Gray . . . to Which Are Now Added, Considerable Improvements and Additions, by Thomas Northmore, Esq. London, 1799. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web.
John Constable’s Correspondence, 2 Volumes. Ed. R.B. Beckett. Suffolk Records Society (Vol. I jointly with H.M.S.O). 1962-1968. Print.
Luckombe, Philip. The Beauties of England: Giving a Descriptive View of the Chief Villages, Market-towns, and Cities . . . in England and Wales. Vol. 1. 5th ed. London, 1791. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.
Parris, Leslie and Ian Fleming-Williams. Constable. London: Tate, 1991. Print.
Paulson, Ronald. Literary Landscape: Turner and Constable. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982. Print.
Reynolds, Graham. The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print.
“The Banks of the Thames.” Saturday Magazine 26 Nov. 1842: 203-5. Print.
W. “A Visit to Hadleigh Castle.” Once a Week. 11 August 1866: 166-68. Print.
White, Charles Harold Evelyn, ed. Hadleigh Castle, Essex., East Anglian, or, Notes and queries on subjects connected with the counties of Suffolk, Cambridge, Essex and Norfolk. Vol. 4. Ipswich, 1892. Print.